The production begins with a Nazi montage. Monochrome video clips from a past era flicker by. Quickly, they are overcome by color — clips of Trump speed across the screen. It’s almost too much to take in at once.
It cuts to black, and the screen rises — we are now in 1930s Berlin. A group of artists struggle between their intentions to take action or not against the growing political terror. In a different time but with the same stride, activist Zillah calls for action to fight authoritarianism and repression threatened by the Trump administration.
Directed by the U of A’s own Brenley Charkow, a MFA directing candidate, A Bright Room Called Day, as presented at the Timms Centre, presents the parallels between the rise of Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The original playwright, Tony Kushner, first brought this production to the stage in 1985, comparing Reagan to Hitler. Revising the Reagan references to Trump, Zillah, the central character vlogs instead of writing letters, and recent events such as Charlottesville serve as pivotal points in the play. An intensely political play, the characters can be seen as varying prototypes of a youth suffering under the educational grasp of the Deutsches Reich and Trump.
The production offers two contrasting perspectives in tangent with each other. In the modern day, we find Zillah. Moving to Berlin out of frustration at the growing power of the Trump administration, she is unimaginably naïve, idealistic, with a raw mind and emotions of the generalized American, who is highly sophisticated in matters of money and technology but childlike when it comes to religion and morals. Prejudice now manifests itself in the assertion that Americans, as a whole, probably know neither what they are doing nor what they “ought” to be doing. Zillah’s unconditional rejection of American politics is founded on the fact that everything coming from America impacted the broader framework of Zillah’s own life, whereas German reality was distant — exotic, even.
Such a political judgement — a judgement over a people, a nation — naturally also contains a generalization. The individual slips through the net, losing all that is special about it. However, A Bright Room Called Day allows the contrasting individual figure of 1930s Berlin resident Agnes to exist in tangent with Zillah. For all her doubts, Agnes sees her apartment in Germany as representing a comfortable, safe space and enjoyment of life. This means that an instinctive rejection of leaving America for Zillah and the fear of the annihilation of Germany itself to Agnes are two sides of the same coin.
The varying reactions of the characters and a play that creates contrasting political dialogues within the audience can be used to demonstrate how political history and cultural criticism can come together to form a curious blend which is impossible to break down within the confines of a limited space in each individual case — yet which should nonetheless always be borne in mind, especially in the winds of political change. A Bright Room Called Day sets up a political dialogue that is much needed in the politics of not only the Trump era, but every era as well.