Firehall Arts Centre
The Blue Light
by Mieko Ouchi
Director Donna Spencer Choreography Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg Set Concept Donna Spencer Costumes Barbara Clayden Lighting James Proudfoot Sound Marc Stewart Stage Manager Lori Parker
Dates and Venue 5 – 27 January 2007 @ The Firehall Arts Centre Reviewer Jane Penistan
We have grown used to seeing the spectacular openings of the Olympics on our TV screens. Each host country tries to outdo the previous host by a superior spectacular. Away back in 1936 the world was taken by storm when a film of the opening of the Berlin Olympic Games appeared on cinema screens. Here was mass parading, banner waving, and the cult of the beauty of athletic youth glorified, in an enormous, international event, the like of which had not been seen before.
A film of this magnitude had not even been conceived, let alone made, directed, choreographed and produced by a woman, a dancer and actress, Leni Riefenstahl. Filmmaking was changed forever,
Mieko Ouchi’s The Blue Light tells the story of this remarkable woman. In a beautifully written play she not only presents a historic time in the evolution of cinematic documentary films, but also the moral dilemma of what is politically focused to influence public thinking, as opposed to a dramatically presented public event. Prior to Olympia, Riefenstahl, at Hitler’s behest, had made the film Triumph of the Will, a documentary on the NSDAP party rally at Nuremberg, some two years earlier.
The play opens with Leni Riefenstahl (Gabrielle Rose), now an aged woman, waiting in the office of a Hollywood production office hoping to make another movie. As she waits for the smart young career woman (Daniela Vlaskalic) to return to her interview, she remembers her early days as a famous dancer and the years fall away as memory floods back.
In succeeding scenes we see her life unfolding, first as a young dancer at odds with her father, an early Nazi but also a disciplinarian father (Jack Paterson), with her brother (Doug Herbert), in her early fim making with Fanck, (Sean Devine) a respected German film director. Her work with Fanck leads to meetings with Goebels (Sean Devine) and subsequently Hitler (Jack Paterson). The opportunity to make a huge, new, multi-cast, film with no budget restrictions is the realization of Leni’s vision of cinema as it could be, and she seizes the day with joyful energy. The success of the Nuremberg film leads to the even greater triumph of Olympia, in 1938.
Hitler’s declaration of war ends Reifenstahl’s career as a filmmaker. After the war, tried as a Nazi criminal, she declares she was a filmmaker, not a propagandist for the Nazi regime. Though ultimately exonerated, her career in films is destroyed.
Donna Spencer directs this presentation with insight and sensitivity. Scenes merge into each other seamlessly, never leaving the audience wondering when or where a scene is taking place. Gabrielle Rose is youthful and ecstatic, overwhelmed by events, or heartbreaking as a spirited, dynamic, once highly respected woman who is now forgotten. This is a memorable performance by a most talented and perceptive actor.
She is well supported by the other four members of the cast, who play multiple roles from newspaper reporters, family members, filmmakers, major Nazi party leaders, and trial court lawyers. They are a versatile and well rehearsed company, whose varied characterizations are always clear and believable.
This is a most sophisticated production in every way,
from its brilliant script posing questions of ethics and morality, its
solid direction and the excellence of the acting.
© 2007 Jane Penistan