Audiences witnessed an intense family drama this past weekend at “The Informer,” the latest InTheWorks studio production.
The show, a one-act play written by Bertolt Brecht and translated by Eric Bentley, ran from April 28 to 30 at the Gruber Theater in the Anderson Center. It follows a couple living in 1936 Nazi Germany whose son is a member of the feared Hitler Youth, with the family forced to restrict their speech and actions due to the totalitarian regime.
The play’s main conflict is derived from the father making an anti-Hitler comment and their son leaving the house soon after. After their son leaves, without his parents knowing his destination, the parents proceed to panic over their son’s whereabouts and the possible ramifications if he reports the comment.
In selecting a play, M-Jay He, the play’s director and a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in theatre, wanted to highlight family dynamics.
“I always wanted to explore the relationship between family members, especially the relationship under some political and social coercion,” He wrote in an email. “This story happened in a typical German family experience during Nazi domination in the 1930s.”
Caleb Dransfield, a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in theatre, played Mr. Furcke, the husband. Dransfield described the rehearsal process as one of analysis and learning.
“We had time to dig into some of the history behind the play and analyze the script to clarify each character’s actions and what they are trying to achieve throughout the course of the play,” Dransfield wrote in an email. “The director, M-Jay [He], was very specific with what he wanted.”
Dransfield said Brecht’s works explored a style of “epic theatre,” focused on alienating the audience from the characters with dark humor to make them aware they are watching a performance and force them to think of the matter discussed. The challenge then, as described by Dransfield, was finding the best approach to “epic theatre.”
“When performing a Brecht play, the director needs to decide how far to take this ‘alienation’ and the actors have to grapple with how to approach it,” Dransfield wrote. “M-Jay [He] wanted to stay as close to realism as we could. We tried to portray the culture of fear that many dealt with, and that many still do. Although there is a touch of comedy in there and we didn’t shy away from it.”
For Ashton Lewis — the actor who played the son, Klaus-Heinrich Furcke, and a junior majoring in human development — recognizing the humor and family dynamics proved difficult.
“It’s sort of difficult to recognize the humor within the play because of the historical circumstances being in such a severe time and location,” Lewis wrote. “It was also very difficult to figure out the motivations of our characters as you really had to watch what you say at that time. Figuring out what the husband and wife want is pretty difficult because they often are too afraid to say how they really feel and also change their minds quite a bit. This made it quite difficult to determine what my relationship is to both of them.”
Dransfield said his understanding of his character came through rehearsing.
“For me, the character is built throughout the rehearsal process,” Dransfield wrote. “I learn what I can from the script, and fill in the rest from my imagination. To do justice to the character I have [is] to see him as having an entire life, not just what we see on stage. People have thoughts, opinions, experiences, a whole past that creates who they are. In this case, my job is to figure out how [the] husband sees the world and what motivates him to act as he does.”
Dransfield said he hopes audiences were both entertained and spooked.
“The play is a dark comedy,” Dransfield wrote. “I hope the audience got entertained in the theatre, and, when they step out of the Gruber [Theater], they can realize that the story is a little bit scary.”