I arrived to Clayton Community Theatre this past Saturday evening, just as the sun dipped low in the summer sky. The air was brisk, a rare occurrence for St Louis in June. The mission? To review CCT’s workshop production of “And It Shall Be Forgiven” written by local playwright, Jason Slavik, and directed by St. Louis costuming legend, Tracey A. Newcomb. Passing by an impressive concession stand, I visit the box office and enter the theatre. Attendance is healthy, drawing friends and family of the involved, as well as a number of regular CCT audience members.
From the moment the lights came up on the set, it became clear who would bethe energy of the show. As a projected photo of Adolf Hitler appears on the back wall, Mark Neels playing Lieutenant Friedrich Honheim enters with authoritative exactness. The set is surprisingly complete for a workshop production, his Wehrmacht uniform undeniably striking. The audience watches as Friedrich (Neels) crosses to unlock his closet door, only to realize the door is jammed. His energy is palpable, capturing the audience’s attention with something I can only describe as commitment.
One room, two starkly different worlds. We are introduced to Friedrich’s office, and war-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. Complete with commanding officer, Colonel Günther Dietrich (Tom Moore), and S.S. Officers, Obersturmführer Johanis Fingiert (Robbie Frei) and Obersturmführer Victor Erfunden (Robert Tierney). The close relationship between Friedrich (Neels) and Colonel Dietrich (Moore) is a charming one, and endears us to the older man from the beginning. However, as a whole, I found myself wishing Neels’ supporting cast would adopt the same high energy and authoritative presence as Friedrich (Neels), the lowly clerk.
From the same closet door that Friedrich (Neels) struggles to open, we are introduced to an entirely new set of characters. 65 years later, we meet Devin Marx (Drew Rydberg) in the summer of 2007. He’s accompanied by his girlfriend, Serina (Katie Schares), along his his best friend, Micah (Stephan Peterson) and girlfriend, Elaina (Jessa Knust). The group is led by Micah’s Grandmother (Cindy Duggan), affectionately called Nonna throughout. The room hasn’t been touched since the war, and will now serve as the boys’ room for their stay in Amsterdam.
Before long, the two worlds collidewhen Devin (Rydberg) makes contact with the spirit of Friedrich Honheim (Neels). The millennial teens with their marijuana and relaxed attitudes stand in stark juxtaposition to a war-occupied Amsterdamn of 1942. And yet, somehow the playwright finds commonality between them.
The themes of “And It Shall Be Forgiven” are admirable and relevant. While the differences between Freidrich’s (Neels) and Devin’s (Rydberg) worlds make for some much needed comedic relief, the similarities between the two are what make it worth buying a ticket.“And It Shall Be Forgiven” speaks to forgiveness of oneself, and points to the mistakes of nations beyond the Holocaust and the German people. It’s Humanism, and I can get behind that.
That being said, no production, play nor film, should be two and a half hours long. No matter how meaningful and brilliant the themes, it’s an uphill battle to command an audience’s attention for that long. Many of the scenes needed condensing, and a side plot edited out. I love a good period piece, but some of the dialogue seemed overly narrative in nature, more from a history book than truthful to character.
By most accounts, the workshop production was production-level quality. The actors were fully memorized and costumed beautifully in outfits that were truthful to their time period, position, and personality. Unsurprising if you know Tracey A. Newcomb, well-known for her above-and-beyond work as a costume designer, and now director, in the St. Louis theatre community.
As a whole, the show has promise. When condensed to a more manageable size, and given the undivided attention of a full production, I expect the narrative to come into it’s own. As an audience member, you’re sent home with food for thought. And that, my friends, is themost important part.
I’m confident this won’t be the last you hear from Slavik and “And It Shall Be Forgiven.”