Review: Wheaton Drama’s Full Circle

By: Erich Maria Remarque
Adapted By: Peter Stone
Location: Wheaton Drama
Director: Sean Ogren
Assistant Director: Suzanne Ogren

Disclaimer: Before I begin I should warn you that there might be a bit of bias with this particular production from Wheaton Drama… and not in the sense that you may think. For me war dramas are rather difficult for me to look at (let alone be a part of) with any objectivity due to my own personal and familial connections with war. So bear that in mind as you continue onward with this particular post.

So why the disclaimer? Simple, because this was not an easy show to watch for me, nor was it an easy show to think about let alone review.

Other than the above disclaimer what other strikes was there in regards to this show? Well by virtue that I knew a fair number of the cast by either reputation, having worked with them before, or having seen them in other productions I already knew walking in what they could bring to the table.

Take all that together in consideration and my expectations for this production and for the players in it and they are much higher than the norm for a community theatre production.

So how did “Full Circle” from the cast and crew at Wheaton Drama fare?
Acting: Love
Set Design: Love
Staging: Love
Directing: Love
Overall: Like
Wait… wuh? Well allow me to explain… eventually.

This was a very moving, very emotionally charged show. There is a lot going on when it comes to the human condition that will touch (and possibly provoke) the audience in different ways. Because this production is set in the point of view of the citizens / common man who don’t typically see the actual warfare, but are victims of the raids / bombings / etc… it open a window into the lives of these people in ways that media never could.

These are the people that didn’t ask for war, didn’t ask to hide in bunkers as the sky showers with explosive devices. These are not the people that want to stay inside earlier and earlier everyday because it is too dangerous to walk out on the streets. These are not the people that wanted their lives to be disrupted or asked to live in constant fear and paranoia as to who is a friend / family / foe. But… to even understand any of the above… this is a production that must be seen. Because honestly, nothing I can say would do this production justice, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try.

What really set the stage from the get-go was the director’s (Sean Ogren) intention of making sure that everyone spoke with an (authentic as possible) accent, be it German or Russian… depending on their character. While most everyone did a respectable job, I felt that Lauren Filip – who portrayed the sometimes oblivious, sometimes annoying, and but 100% self-indulgent Grete – was the most authentic.

Don’t ask me why, seeing as my own accent (Asian or otherwise) do need work… but Lauren’s German accent felt and sounded the most realistic and natural as if she spoke German regularly.

Another aspect of the production that was above and beyond was the set design and scenic art as done by R J Ogren. He truly knocked it out of the park from the skyline of the near-ruins of Berlin, to the feel of the inside of the apartment.

But you’re not here to read about the accents/dialects or the set/scenic design… you really want to know about the show don’t you? Well if the above scorecard isn’t enough…

The chemistry, desperation, and desire for survival was palpable between the primary characters of Anna and Rohde (portrayed by Lisa Dawn Foertsch and Randy Knott respectively). Right off the bat you know that these are two souls completely who were deprived of all sense of humanity and when thrown together (or rather when Rohde barges in on Anna) due to circumstances, one can only wonder how it would all come out to be… and at the same time hope for the best.

Except how can one hope for the best in the midst of war? When Anna attempts to hold on to her sense of reality you can’t help but notice that “once upon a time” she desired something more… had something more. Lisa Dawn is absolutely brilliant in this role… she goes through the entire palette of emotions without missing a beat and you feel that you sympathize, cry, and celebrate with her every step of the way.

This is balanced by the integrity and strength (or what is left of it considering he just escaped a Nazi concentration camp) of Erich Rohde as portrayed by Randy Knott. He is hardened, desperate… insistent on survival and when he reaches his destination in hopes of a lifeline he finds more than what he bargained for. What you automatically see and feel with Anna… you can sense with Rohde, which helps balance the moments between the two.

And then there is the third wheel: Rob Reinalda as Schmidt… before I go on let me just add this little tidbit from Rob himself:

So, over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to induce good friends to detest me — even more so than usual.

Well… when Schmidt was on stage… over the course of his interactions with Anna and Rohde, I found myself trying to fight the urge of getting out of my chair going onto the stage and smacking Schmidt upside the head and kneeing him in the balls. So I suppose you can say that Rob did his job to a tee and then some.

My favorite moment (and I am getting evil sense chills just thinking about it) occurs whenever Schmidt is within vicinity of Anna. His look is very much like a predator stalking its prey… and my goodness, watching Schmidt stalk Anna like she was a chew toy maybe me really glad that this is a play and as thus make believe and that Rob isn’t like that and reality.

However, despite the strengths of the above three actors… the one that stood out to me the most (for personal reasons) was Jaime Sandoval as Joseph Katz. As he stood there at downstage center, his lip quivering as he repeated over and over and over again his prisoner number designation and calling himself “Jewish swine” it just breaks your heart. You couldn’t help but fear what this ex-chemistry professor had been through while in a concentration camp.

Jerry Moore as the Russian Captain was pragmatic and patient… completely sold on the Communist system and well… ok I can’t go much further than that due to personal reasons, but let’s just say that I almost believed that he believed in the system.

Lars Timpa as Koerner was comedic and endearing… as odd as that sounds considering. Lauren Filip as Grete was … I don’t know … I just can’t think of a word for her, other than annoying which is a good thing because I feel that we are suppose to be as annoyed with her as Anna is. Seeing Dave Amato and James Klein playing both German and Russian soldiers had a sense of symbolism that was prevalent throughout the production.

Now for the hard part… as much as I absolutely loved the first act for the realism, the strengths, the changes of levels and the interaction between characters… the second act seemed to unravel bit by bit as it progressed. This is due mostly in part of the writing because the acting and directing were very strong and poignant.

There were moments where I felt that one had to suspend disbelief because in actual war time a lot of what happens towards the end of the second act is not all that believable. However, what made it believable was how the actors continued through the dialogue and the interactions to the point that you can’t help but want what would be best…

Another issue… which really can’t be helped… is that it is quite difficult to visually believe that those who escaped from concentration camps truly did so… because they looked to be too “well fed”… but really I am just nit-picking at this point. Truly… this was a very strong production… I’m allowed to nitpick on occasion 😉

What I am impressed by Sean Ogren’s direction is that he appears to have an intuitive sense to bring out the best (or the worst) parts of the human condition on full display for the need of incredible storytelling. From the crazy emotional depth between Anna and Rohde, to the oblivious Grete… from the desperate Katz to the despicable Schmidt and even the blind obedience of the Russian Captain to the cause, Sean’s understanding of each and every character helps strengthen not only the ability of each actor, but as the show as a whole as well.

On top of the emotional capacity, Sean also found places in “Full Circle” to infuse quite a few comedic moments, some of which I didn’t expect. Where Grete was annoying, she also provided some of the show’s lighter moments. Koerner also added to the levity in some capacity. Sometimes you need to really dig and soak up the lightness of these moments as a way to balance with the drama that is war. Even Anna and Rohde have their moments of comedic lightness and joy.

Emotionally this production of “Full Circle” is going to be hard for some. It was definitely very difficult for me to watch due to my own personal story, but I will admit that it is well worth the time and effort to see. Just the emotional story between Anna (Lisa Dawn) and Rohde (Randy) is enough for one to want to stick to the end to see if there is such a thing as happy endings.

Then again, when it comes to war… is there such a thing as a happy ending?

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