All Through the Night

Shirley Lauro’s drama All Through the Night opens badly, but it gets better. It begins with clumsy exposition: a stern teacher’s every lesson tells us only about the Third Reich. History? We learn how the Germans were ‘stabbed in the back’ at Versailles. Music? ‘We will become fiery Conquerors!/ And the Reich in Triumph will shine!’ We are helpfully informed that the Party is taking over every girl’s organisation in Germany, that the Party can open mail, tap phones, and check medical records (and more) to find suspected dissidents. If the play weren’t 13 years old, you’d swear these were Snowden parallels.

Syracuse’s University’s production, on the whole, is good. The costumes are convincing, and the acting, if uneven, has notable highlights

Fortunately this is soon over, and we move on with the difficult, affecting tale of four women’s passage into adulthood. The fairy tale-frame works well: Ludmilla, our narrator, prompts the cast to their slow reminiscences. The story’s stubborn unwillingness to suit her ‘happily ever after’ vision allows it to testify to the complexities of life.

There is complexity in the characters, too. Gretchen (Allison Fifield) is enthusiastic about National Socialism until Kristallnacht strips her of her illusions. Both her self-serving, self-deluding enthralment and subsequent disenchantment are understandable and deeply human. Like the hospital director (Brady Richards) she is a basically decent person living in a world that demanded monstrous things of her — a case study for Arendt’s banality hypothesis.

And Syracuse’s University’s production, on the whole, is good. The costumes are convincing, and the acting, if uneven, has notable highlights: Taylor Anderson as the schoolmistress; Iniki Mariano as a truly sadistic Nazi; Brady Richards, whose German accent is perfect even when he’s angry. And there are moments of hair-raising intensity. In one compelling scene Angelika (Meredith Bechtel) is forced to strip into her underclothes onstage: its painful intimacy marks it as one of the most effective in the play. The projection of arch titles isn’t always felicitous — ‘The Lord Giveth, the Lord Taketh Away’ finds Angelika in a concentration camp — but images of Ecuadorean artist Oswaldo Guayasamín’s work are used to powerful effect.

The natural gravity of All Through the Night’s subject matter, however, is undermined by its clumsy navigation of languages. If the German accents are mostly good, though unnecessary — particularly considering Angelika and Gretchen’s frankly American voices — the replacement of simple words with their German cognates, like ‘und’ for ‘and’ and ‘mutter’ for ‘mother’, is gratuitous and rather mystifying, not to mention grating. Even worse is the reduction of tenses to the present erroneous (‘We both be sent to camp!’): does this imply that the Germans are inexplicably telling their story in broken English, or that they don’t speak German themselves?

All Through the Night is a play with a purpose: to draw attention to the previously under-examined plight of gentile women under the Third Reich. One might be forgiven for being uneasy about this kind of thing, fearing that a sense of social duty can distort aesthetic judgements. But, it’s also true that this kind of purpose takes writers to fresh places. Which is to say: All Through the Night has moments of achievement and promise. If only it were a little subtler.

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The Blurb

Nominated for Chicago's prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play, this is an intensely moving portrayal of a nightmare made real as four German gentile women endure the ravages of the Third Reich; their lives forever changed by choices they are forced to make. Inspired by interviews and oral histories, a compelling play that speaks to what is happening today.