Theatergoers shouldn’t need to examine the fine print of the program for disclaimers or revelations about the show they are about to see. They do, however, with the latest offering of Firebelly Productions, the company that presents shows at Arlington’s Theatre on the Run in order to give young adult professional actors a chance to practice their craft.
The program for "Shelter" says "an ensemble of artists come together to build an original piece of theatre through creative writing, improvisation and historical research."
Note that it doesn’t actually say "a play."
The work that they present is a one-hour, eight-scene piece telling a strong story through the work of a cast of two, who helped develop it in the first place. It is closer to a work-in-progress than a finished play.
Under the co-direction of Ali Miller and Firebelly’s Artistic Director Kathi Gollwitzer, the cast and crew has produced an intriguing, intimate tale set in tumultuous times. They have done a good job with this "play building exercise" and the result is an interesting hour in the theater.
"Shelter" takes place in a bomb-shelter in Berlin in the closing days of World War II with the sound of Allied bombers overhead. Two people are together in this confined space. One is a young woman who may well have a secret that places her in more danger from the man she’s with than from the bombs pounding the earth nearby.
The other character is a youthful German soldier. He may be young, but he’s seen a lot of action during the war, having served on the Russian front and now as an aide to a general in the Nazi army.
The two have known each other for years, as we get to know through flash backs that reveal more and more about each, but more about her than about him. By the time the action returns to the time and place of the opening, we are in a position to understand the final confrontation between the two.
KIRSTEN BENJAMIN PLAYS the young woman with a secret. She is stylish in a formal way, which is quite effective in the role. When she and the young soldier discuss another pretty young woman they can see outside of the view of the audience, she turns out to be Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun. Benjamin looks as if she could have traded places with Braun.
Patrick Flannery is the younger of the two, and he seems a bit young to be a soldier with a number of years of service. Of course, the Nazis did induct youth into the army at an early age.
The "theater piece" is performed on a bare stage with an upright piano wheeled in for one scene and a small wooden box serving as the only furniture for the opening and closing scenes.
The fact that the stage is bare, however, does not mean that there is a cheap or plain feeling to the production. Excellent lighting by Andrew F. Griffin and effective sound effects provided by Christopher Rothgeb help build the atmosphere required for the piece.
Tickets to the production are at a reduced rate. Adult admission is just $10 and students and seniors get in for half that.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.