All Over the Map
The Good German journeys to Westport, The Seventh Monarch reigns in L.A., and Wild Blue flies into Dayton
Set in World War II Germany, the play concerns a German husband and wife who harbor a Jewish publisher despite the risk of discovery by their Nazi friend (played by Tony Award-winner Boyd Gaines). "Unfortunately, certain topics are always timely," says Wiltse. "And prejudice is one of those. It seems to reside in society like bacteria on the skin. The slightest scratch of the surface and infection begins, racing through the body politic in a matter of days.
"The same analogy can be made about the erosion of liberty," Wiltse continues. "It takes very little to start it, particularly if its source is government policy. I do not consider The Good German to be a political play so much as it is a play in which people are very concerned, mortally concerned, about morality. In the past, many, many people have died because of the morality of others. That will probably always be the case as one group decides that another group is not really worthy of life."
The production is directed by James Naughton, who won Tony Awards for his performances in Chicago and City of Angels. Naughton is no stranger to directing, having helmed the Tony-nominated revival of The Price a few years back as well as the production of Our Town, starring Paul Newman, that started out at the Westport Country Playhouse and then moved to Broadway in the fall of 2002. "My respect for his skills as a director has grown with each day of rehearsal," says Wiltse. "He directs the way he sings -- very calmly, very casually, with a large range and even larger reserves of power, and always in complete control of his material."
"One of the most compelling elements of the play is the character of Miriam and the incredibly original voice Jim has given her," says director Deborah LaVine. "Her story presents an unusual opportunity to explore contemporary issues such as hero worship, rape, and other social ills while being drawn into the heightened language. Her speech represents Miriam's genius intellect as well as her emotionally damaged psyche."
This production has presented a number of challenges for the award-winning director. "I normally prefer to have the set finalized before the actors begin rehearsals," she states. "In this case, we needed to explore the text in concert with the design team to discover the visual language necessary to support the complexities of the story." LaVine has also benefited from the opportunity to dialogue with playwright Jim Henry. "I was immediately drawn to the concept of a fairly realistic drama/mystery set in a highly theatrical style," she says. "Jim is flexible and eager to find the strongest 'take' on the script. He has addressed questions and concerns via telephone and e-mail; as a result, there have been some wonderful adjustments to the text."
LaVine previously worked with the Road Theatre Company on the critically acclaimed Napoli Milionaria, which earned her an L.A. Ovation Award for Outstanding Director. "I appreciate their daring and their commitment to quality in the execution of the physical productions," she says, "as well as the highly gifted actors who comprise the company. Although I prefer being a freelance director for a number of reasons, I would like to think of the Road as an adopted home."
Composer Rob Hartmann explains that he and collaborators Scott Keys and Liv Cummins initially had some trouble deciding on the form and style of the show. "We were like, 'Well, we can't just do the Schoolhouse Rock explanation of flight,'" he jokes. "We really tried to lay off delivering wheelbarrows of information; whenever you do anything that involves research, you kind of want to throw it at everybody. In the Wright Brothers section, when they're talking about their competitors, we actually say: 'And if you want to know more about them, read a book!' We tried to get to the emotional essence of the stories, but the musical does introduce people to a lot of characters and elements of history that they might not have been aware of."
Wild Blue is presented as a musical revue, the songs linked by a framing device in which a pajama-clad man has a series of dreams where he encounters aviation icons such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. Hartmann found this structure to be quite liberating: "It gave me a chance to explore a lot of different musical genres that I wouldn't necessarily get to write in if I were doing a show that stuck to one place and one time," he says. "I wanted to draw on the history of music, and the show has a little bit of folk, pop, jazz, and musical theater, as well as some rock and roll."