Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Place We Built” at the Flea Theater

May 19, 2016 | LGBT, Off-Off-Broadway | Tags:
Review: “The Place We Built” at the Flea Theater (Closed Monday May 30, 2016)
Written by Sarah Gancher
Directed by Danya Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I like being able to define my species. And so I guess for the Seagull I don’t know anything, I’m an outside observer, but I think They found the beauty in being outside They made a place where they could define themselves.” Aisha/Nar

The thirty-something Jewish Bohemians in “The Place We Built,” currently running at the Flea Theater, who in 2001 established the Seagull (based on the true story of the Siraly) as a safe haven in Budapest gather in 2013 to decide whether they will – as ordered by the police – vacate their safe house or take a stand and hold up in the Seagull. Maria (Sonia Mena) announces to those assembled they have only 38 hours to make their decision – the decision that will change their lives forever. Do they take a stand or move on? These are the enduring and essential questions raised by Sarah Gancher in the world premiere of her high-energy, politically relevant play.

Ms. Gancher uses interviews (characters interviewing others and themselves) and flashbacks to establish exposition and to develop her characters. While these conventions clearly establish the political history of Budapest and the significant struggle of Jewish citizens to secure safety and acceptance, neither the interviews nor the multitude of flashbacks successfully develop the play’s characters as they define themselves in 2001 or in 2013 when the Seagull is shuttered “until further notice, maybe permanently.” Unfortunately, the firebrand Zoltan (Ash McNair) and his band of protestors remain shallow and flat making it difficult to care for them or for the important decisions they have to make.

The cast of “The Place We Built” is uniformly competent and compelling. Danya Taymor’s direction is uneven and often leaves the cast swarming across the stage to a form a mosh pit. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is cleverly squeezed into the Flea’s small playing space and works quite well although part of the set requires a third of the audience to twist around if it wants to see the action or face forward and listen in only.

The strength of “The Place We Built” lies in its theme of resistance and transformation. Zoltan’s description of the zeal of the young people who gather at the closing and dismantling of the Seagull is chilling and haunting. Near the end of the play, Julia (Cleo Gray) confesses to Zoltan, “And I know the world is complicated. Everything is s**t. I don’t care. We have to keep trying. Things can change. I am changing.”

It is this youthful penchant for chasing hope that makes “The Place We Built” engaging and relevant and worth the visit.