Hip Shot: Fallbeil
July 24 at 10:15 p.m.
July 27 at 7:45 p.m.
They Say: "Teetering between the worlds of national hero Sophie Scholl and modern day Germany, this historical fantasy tells the story of two women faced with mortality – one confronted by Nazi Germany, the other with the conflict in the Middle East."
Lauren's Take: I walked into Liz Maestri's play Fallbeil anticipating something very different than what it was. It is not, as its program text might lead you to believe, a play that juxtaposes distinct tales from separate decades. Instead we witness two eras collide physically and emotionally, as the ghost of Sophie Scholl interacts with Else, a modern German teenager who is dealing with the fate of her Iraqi war-hero brother, who is on life-support. What we get is a temporal mash-up, one in which Sophie and Else face parallels in their personal fates and the fates of their friends and family.
In Fallbeil, Else (Angie Tennant) struggles with the decision of pulling the plug on her brother, seeking courage by communing with the specter of Sophie (Chelsey Christensen). Else and her friend Karl (Josh Adams) visit the graveyard where Sophie and her brother Hans (Kevin Collins) are buried. The two women swap stories, ask questions, and seek friendship from one another as each struggles with her loved ones and her own morality. Both women are faced with life-changing decisions, ultimately questioning: How do we stand up for something we believe so strongly in? Sophie creates the White Rose leaflets (an anti-Nazi publication) despite the fact that "people will talk" and she will be found out. Else puts her friendship with Karl on hold while she deals with her brother's life; she cares about her brother despite questioning the war he fought in.
It's a complex, densely layered story—but one that doesn't always pay off its many parallels between past and present. What helps is the stunning set from Stephen Strosnider, which realizes both of the play's eras: There is a background of German photographs in frames hung floor to ceiling, as well as an array of antique cargo boxes that form everything from a grave to a bedroom to a hospital to a fallbeil (the German word for guillotine). The movement and acting is emotional and touching thanks to the direction of Nick Vargas: Sophie's journey from her grave into Else's reality is seamless, allowing their worlds to come together physically.
Where I struggled was the vagueness of Sophie and Hans' ghostly limbo, and why they were trying to escape their graves. While it's clear what Else needs from Sophie—she wants to know what so brave a figure would do—the reverse is foggier to the detriment of both characters' stories. When Else ultimately makes her hard choice, we can't what the Sophie of Fallbeil would've done. Instead she remains elusive, not quite heroic and not quite human.
See it if: You think your first-world problems are the be-all and end-all.
Skip it if: You need to save your tears for your real-life tough decisions.