Michael Moore would really like A Bright Room Called Day, the current Diversionary Theatre entry co-mounted with San Diego's Backyard Productions. He'd get a kick out of Vealtninc Husz, a proletarian filmmaker from Hungary who spouts fire and brimstone as the Nazis take Germany's political reins, and Zillah Katz, a modern-day American exchange student in Berlin who's on a serious rag about her country's politics in general and the Bush administration in particular.
The problem is that Moore's usually way off base-not because he can't articulate his passions (as he aptly did in Roger and Me and the great Fahrenheit 9/11), and certainly not because of his leftist leanings (many of which I heartily embrace). He's usually way off base because he's the other side of the same irritating coin-in the end, he's as reactionary as the Bush conservatives he trash-talks.
With Bright Room, writer Tony Kushner has pretty much fallen into the same trap. Like Moore, he challenges us to face historical precedent in what he sees as America's political and social evils. And like Moore, he's clutching at straws. Comparing George Bush with Adolph Hitler, which Moore has been known to do, is a lot like pitting the neighborhood checkers champ against Bobby Fischer. And despite this show's uniformly fine acting (especially that of Ron Choularton as Husz) and thrifty touches by director Brendon Fox, the parallel stubbornly refuses to take hold.
It has its roots in Agnes Eggling's (Lauren Zimmerman) Berlin apartment, an impromptu clubhouse for the lefty artist crowd in the last days of Germany's Weimar Republic. Even as they eat, drink and make merry, they're quaking at the prospect of a Nazi majority in parliament, and their fears are realized in 1933 amid growing political and civil strife. Alternately, cranky Zillah (Amanda Sitton) spews didactic references to America's 2000 general election (she agrees Bush stole the presidency) and Karl Rove, the pudding-faced presidential adviser who still might face indictment in the big CIA leak probe.
It's telling that this play was published in 1987-its target, of course, was Ronald Reagan, and the Hitler comparisons were just as evident. But then as now, Zillah's hysteria is out of line. The anti-Hitler left, after all, eventually splintered and departed Berlin. For the most part, their modern American counterparts (including Moore) still reside on American soil, their grassroots checks and balances in tow on this side of the timeline.
In mounting A Bright Room Called Day, Backyard and Diversionary have done their art form a tremendous turn. Their play is lean and forceful in most of its production values, and it's resoundingly earnest in its attempt to fuel some local perspective on the national debate. Sometimes, though, debate turns into debate for debate's sake, and that's what happens in this show. Right now, America's supposed totalitarian future is nowhere near the horizon. That's because Congress and the Bush administration are too preoccupied with their own aggrandizement-and too fucking stupid in any event-to collectively seize the opportunity.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Nov. 12. A Bright Room Called Day runs through Dec. 4 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $9-$27. 619-220-0097.
On the money
Young Ronnie Winslow (Kevin Koppman-Gue) didn't realize he'd be kicking up such a fuss over a measly five shillings. But he did-and that's why we have The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan's piece about an innocuous British theft that explodes into several assertions on government representation and women's rights.
Some of the character introductions drag, and Jim Chovick's too old to play Ronnie's father Arthur-otherwise, director Deborah Gilmour Smyth keeps the early 20th-century drawing-room humor alive and the genre on track. And Sir Robert Morton (Jason Heil) and Catherine Winslow (Colleen Kollar)? Such chemistry you've never seen, especially at the end!
The Winslow Boy runs through Nov. 20 at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. $32-$44. 619-437-0600.