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“Amazons and Their Men” script better than convergence-continuum staging

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

In 1932, Leni Riefenstahl attended a rally where Adolf Hitler spoke.  She was so mesmerized by his public speaking ability that she reported that she had an apocalyptic vision that included a stream of water touching the sky and shaking the earth.

She became a National Socialist, commenting about Hitler, “I felt very happy that such a man had come.”  She requested and had a meeting with Hitler, was hired to direct the movie, “Victory of Faith,” a propaganda film about a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg in 1933.  This was the first of many films she would direct, funded by the Nazi Party, including “Triumph of the Will,” which was recognized as an epic, innovative work of propaganda filmmaking.

Riefenstahl was invited to film the Olympic Games in Berlin.  Her film, “Olympia” included technical and aesthetic achievements never before seen in sports filming, including slow motion shots and using multi-cameras to shoot a single scene.

“Amazons and Their Men,” a play by Jordan Harrison, which is in production at convergence-continuum, relates the tale of The Frau (as Riefenstahl was called), trying to make a film about Penthesilea, an Amazon queen who falls in love with Achilles during the Trojan War.

The Frau used to direct beautiful films for a fascist government. Now she’s trying to make a film that’s simply beautiful. She casts herself in the lead role of the Amazon queen, Penthesilea.  To portray Achilles, she recruits a male (The Man)  from the Jewish ghetto. Her own sister (The Extra), plays all the nameless Amazons killed in the background.  The Extra also moves scenery and props.  She casts a beautiful young telegraph youth (The Boy) to play a young Trojan.  Complications set in when The Man and the Boy fall in love.
The movie hits a further snag when the Minister of Propaganda, who has been footing the bills for the filming, pulls his support and financial backing due to the eminent start of the Second World War.
Jordan Harrison, the playwright, has written a number of plays, but is probably best known for his writing of the Netflix hailed series, “Orange is the New Black.”

“Amazons and Their Men, has been called “a brash play,” “a dramatic masterstroke,” a play “filled with dazzling wordplay.”  It is, in fact, a well written, creative, often funny script.  In a good production it would not only grab and hold the audience’s attention, but educate about an era of film and history, little known to many.

Unfortunately, con-con’s staging is not an effective production.  Actors stumble over lines; characterizations are not well developed; the contrast between the stylized acting needed for the scenes of the film, and the realism for actors in real life, is not well developed; the scenic design and special effects don’t always work; accents are inserted at odd places; the costumes fail to complete the images they are intended to create.
Jack Matuszewski as The Boy, portrays his role as it should be.  His acting in the “film” is stylized, contrasting with his realistic “real” speeches.  He also physically fits the role.

Clint Elston (The Man) is generally unbelievable in his scenes.  He failed to texture the character and did not separate his “film” acting from his “real” self.
I saw the staging on opening night, and maybe that was why usually rock-solid Lauri Hammer seemed to be having line problems as the Frau.  Hopefully, as the run goes on, this problem abates.  The stumbling made it impossible to evaluate how she will develop the role.  As presented, she did not grab and hold the characterization.

Jaclyn Cifranic did a nice job of playing multiple roles as The Extra.  Her film scenes tended to have the right stylized acting, which separated those characters from those in which she portrayed The Frau’s sister.

Capsule Judgement: Jordan Harrison’s “Amazons and their Men” is a well written play that tells a fascinating and revealing story of filmmaking and Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately, the convergence-continuum production does not live up to the potential of the script.

“Amazons and their Men,” runs through August 30, 2014 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Con-con’s next show is “The Pillowman,” a dark dramatic comedy of a writer who is accused of violence against children.  It the runs September 26 through October 18 .