Arts and Entertainment | Theater

MFA candidate tackles Kushner’s ‘A Bright Room Called Day’ for thesis

A School of the Arts student’s most recent production will explore the notion that history repeats itself with “A Bright Room Called Day” by Tony Kushner, CC ’78.

The production, which runs April 16-19 at the Connelley Theater in Alphabet City, is the theater direction thesis project of Scott Ebersold, SoA ’14. The play is being put on by Columbia Stages, which produces a series of shows directed and acted in by students in the School of the Arts as well as other actors and playwrights. 

“A Bright Room Called Day” brings the audience to Weimar Germany on the eve of Hitler’s ascent to power. On New Year’s Eve 1932, Agnes Eggling and her friends gather in her apartment as they attempt to come to terms with the dramatic political changes about to sweep their nation. 

Interspersed within this story is that of Zillah Katz, a 21st-century armchair activist deeply concerned about the rise of the far right in our modern political landscape.

The show was originally written by Kushner in response to the Reagan administration’s lack of response to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

“He [Kushner] uses it as an analogy to point out that what was happening in Germany then was relatable to what was happening in America then,” said Ebersold. “The characters in this play are completely immersed in their political passions. They are all trying to avoid or confront the political evil.”

While originally written in response to a particular political situation, Kushner purposely wrote the play to be revised to keep pace with the modern political climate. As a result, Reagan-era conservatism is replaced in this production by the rise of Tea Party politics and the far right.

“I feel that it is important to make any play have an immediacy in popular culture,” Ebersold said. “For me, this play asks the audience to question their own involvement in their government.”

“There’s a lot of technology brought in,” Kristopher Dean, who plays Berlin communist Emil Traum, said. “Not only do we use a lot of technology in the play to show how the woman activist is spreading her message but … how social media and big business and corporate interests pay for political power.”

While the means of activism have certainly changed, Kushner’s play examines the universal desire for stability that permeates political movements. 

“In Weimar Germany, people were desperate for an answer to their problems, and that answer came most emphatically in the Nazi Party,” Dean said.

While deeply rooted in familiar debates, at its core Kushner’s play explores the very human nature of politics, focusing on the two women, who, while separated by space and time, share a very similar struggle.

“The characters in this play are completely immersed in their political passions. They are all trying to avoid or confront the political evil,” Ebersold said. 

Just like the political landscape it describes, “A Bright Room Called Day” is mutable and ever-changing.

“Every single minute of the play is changing,” Ebersold said. “Something for people who not only want to be entertained but also challenged.” 

 “A Bright Room Called Day” will run April 16 to 19 at the Connelley Theater on East Fourth Street. Tickets are free with a CUID.

sarah.roth@columbiaspectator.com | @sarah_e_roth 

Correction: An photo caption on an earlier version of this article incorrectly identfied Laralu Smith in the photo and misattributed the photo credit. Spectator regrets the error.

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