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Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine” depicts growing Nazi fears

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Leawood Stage "Watch on the Rhine"

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Leawood Stage Company performed their latest production, Lilian Hellman’s WWII drama, “Watch on the Rhine” April 4, 5 and 6 in the Oak Room of Leawood City Hall, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, April Bishop, artistic director said.

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“It is a very different show for us, but we thought that it was historically important, educational and worth doing even if we have smaller crowds. The cast cries each time they run the end of the show,” Bishop said.

“Watch on the Rhine” is a moving play by Lillian Hellman, focusing on an idealistic German who, with his American wife and two children, flees Hitler's Germany in 1940 to finds sanctuary with his wife's family in the United States, Bishop said. He hopes for a respite from the dangerous work he has involved himself, but his desire for personal safety soon comes into conflict with the deeply held beliefs that have made him an active anti-Nazi.

“Told in compelling, human terms, ‘Watch on the Rhine’ is an eloquent and stirring tribute to the brave men and women who, despite all odds, struggled to stem the tide of fascism which soon spread throughout Europe and the world. Audiences may be familiar with the 1943 Oscar winning film of ‘Watch on the Rhine’ staring Bette Davis.” Bishop said.

June 6, 2014 will be the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Leawood Stage Company will honor the sacrifices made by the "Greatest Generation" to free the world from fascism with this production.

The case included: John Van de Voort as Joseph, Nan Lippincott as Anise, Rozanne Devine as Fanny, Benjamin Dalton as David, Theresa DeBrevi as Marthe, Richard W. Daley as Teck, Breanna Danielle Swatzell as Sara, David Pendergrass as Kurt, Reid Spencer as Joshua, Andrea Azeltine as Babette, and Connor Clary as Bodo.

The production features a one set room that functioned well as the focal point of the drama with the first act taking place one morning and Act II about an hour later. While the show is set to occur in one day, the pacing of the piece needed more speed to help create the intensity of the situation. The show is very dramatic and contained several laughs to keep it lighter as it takes the audience to the deeper and darker depths of the overall theme of Nazi invasion in Europe and the spread of Fascism.

Standing out for their parts in the show, Devine as Fanny, Swatzell as Sara, and Pendergrass as Kurt kept the show moving forward It was their characters’ determination that drove the piece and involved the audience to continue its focus.

Hand out credit also to the younger performers who gave the show heart. Spencer, Azeltine and Clary provide the escape for the audience because it is their future that hangs in the balance with the Nazis gaining power and strength while their parents struggle to escape and fight against their advancement. Clary provided the most comic relief with his character.

The show was well conceived and produced, but had one glaring problem. With no individual microphones, characters spoke loudly throughout, minimizing the dramatic effect in some scenes. Also, the over-pronunciation of each and every syllable by some characters slowed the pace of the show and lessened the effect of the Hellman drama. Enunciation is important, but when overdone becomes a distraction for both character and cohesiveness of scenes.

Give lots of credit to those involved with the show. The merits far outweigh the flaws. A lot of work goes into such a production for a three-day run. The sets, lights, direction, costumes, stage management, props and sound all take time to prepare and sharpen.

Leawood Stage Company does a great job selection and producing shows of merit. Next up for Leawood Stage, “Hello, Dolly” opens July 11 for eight nights, July 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, and 20, nightly at 8 p.m. The show is free at the Ironwoods Park Amphitheater, 147th and Mission Road.

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