Adapted from Orson Welles's 1946 film of the same name, Frank Cwiklik's The Stranger seeks to pay tribute to and explore the look and feel of Welles's noir period as well as expand and restore the moral agenda of the compromised version of the film currently available. It is a fascinating exercise in style and once again marks Cwiklik as a director to watch.
From the opening moments of the production, it was clear that Welles's auteurist approach is well-suited to Cwiklik's. The costumes, choreography, lights, sound, script, and often stylized acting were all filtered through Cwiklik's vision to create an evening of too-rare consistency and coherency. The stark chiaroscuro of the lighting and the gray tones and muted sepias of the costumes contributed to the impression that the production was somehow in black-and-white. The elaborate sound design occasionally overpowered the voices of the actors but was otherwise executed with technical precision and an ear for molding disparate elements into a cohesive experience. The staging recalled Welles's exquisite composition without the benefit of close-ups and depth-of-field tricks. Never content with a functional stage picture, Cwilik composed moment after moment of real beauty.
The actors were asked to embrace the stylistic demands of film noir and succeeded with mixed results. Particularly strong was Peter B. Brown as an escaped Nazi war criminal hiding under an assumed identity in small-town America. Tom Reid brought a precise and calculated sense of menace to his Konrad Meinike. Ian W. Hill proved himself in tune with the style and pace for which the director aimed. Dan Maccarone was charming and sympathetic as the young Noah Longstreet but sometimes had difficulty keeping up with the pace of his lines. Michele Schlossberg struggled valiantly with the role of Wilson the Nazi-hunter but fell short of capturing the intensity of Edward G. Robinson's justly acclaimed performance in the film.
In his director's note, Cwiklik wrote that he was intimidated by the subject matter and moral scope of this play, particularly in the wake of September 11th. Apparently having worked through, and even benefited from, his nervousness, he succeeded in presenting a moving and unique piece of theater. His DM Theatrics aim to revitalize theater in part by infusing it with the energy of genre traditions. With The Stranger, Cwiklik has made a significant step in that direction, using Orson Welles's brilliance as a starting point and ending by making a case for his own.
Also featured were Gerald Marsini, Josh Mertz, Sarah Jane Bunker, and Moira Stone.
(NOTE: The 1946 Orson Welles film The Stranger is available streaming online, free at www.movieflix.com.)
Lights: 2/ Sound: 1
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Copyright 2001 Frank Episale