Written in 1946 by Swiss playwright Max Rudolf Frisch, THE CHINESE WALL depicts a world on the precipice of annihilation because of the newly invented atomic bomb. Sounds like ancient history, right? Something we all learned to deal with years ago. Especially when inundated with observations by Pontius Pilate (Steve Shaw), Napoleon (Kevin Hoffman, Jr.), and Cleopatra (Gina Yates) – to name just a few of history’s notables with an opinion. Even some fictional characters like Romeo (Brent Anthony) and Juliet (Michaela Delaney Guthrie) seem to have thoughts on the subject.
But THE CHINESE WALL also echoes with very eerie fears for the future. For this is a play which has no boundaries in time, space, or anything else for that matter. Past, present, and future become one, colliding with each other in a possible doomsday scenario. In a play written over 70 years ago, Frisch has become oddly prophetic and has managed to tap into some of the concerns which we may feel at this very moment in time. Written with an eye to history, satire, tragedy, comedy, and farce, THE CHINESE WALL is again “timely,” assuming the role of a morality play of absurd proportions. Even though the playwright was initially writing an anti-fascist play about the insidious dangers of war and the real danger of the atomic bomb, he ended up transcending the barriers of time.
To begin, we have to dig way back in history and travel far away to explore the China of two thousand years ago. Who was this Tzhin Zhe Huang Ti (Mark Atha) anyway? History records him as the monarch who thought up “The Great Wall” – a wall which could extend from Berlin to New York by today’s standards – as the best protection available at the time. Parallels to the present situation become readily obvious, especially when the ancient ruler morphs into a very current and well-known political figure. Enter the Contemporary Man (Patrick Skelton), who keeps pulling the audience back to the present and serves as narrator and a sort of universal conscience.
The large cast also includes Columbus (Linda Abznauer), Brutus (David Joseph Keller), Don Juan (Caroline Stella), and Philip of Spain (Hersha Parady) – everyone with a point of view that longs to be told. Each does his part in proving that time does indeed stand still. THE CHINESE WALL is intriguing and sometimes engrossing. At the same time, however, it is often confusing as time folds in on itself. Portraying the current commander-in-chief as a lascivious buffoon seemed to go overboard, regardless of one’s political affiliations. At times, it felt that the playwright used a bat rather than a feather to put his point across. THE CHINESE WALL is bound to be controversial – perhaps a necessary evil at this point in history. At the same time, the audience must remain aware that this play has a very definite opinion and is not afraid to express it. AUDIENCE ALERT: There is some brief nudity.
THE CHINESE WALL runs through March 11, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and a 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 (student, senior, and group discounts available). For information and reservations, call 818-653-5990 or go online.