Written and directed by Padraic Duffy, and making its world premiere, is a new and gripping play entitled Puzzler, a gritty film noir tale about East German spies, the reconstruction of memory and the loyalty of undying love.
Review by Pauline Adamek
Hired as a “puzzler” by the German Government, Niklas Keller (Mark Bramhall) spends his days piecing together shredded secret police “˜Stasi”™ files left behind after the collapse of East Germany during the late 1980s. When a young American woman Robin (Jeanne Syquia) turns up to do research for her thesis, questions are raised about who each of them really are, what hidden connections exist between them and what really happened one winter day in 1973 West Berlin.
Tifanie McQueen”™s excellent, dual-level set is a basement office, littered with overflowing bags and piles of shredded paper and broken ribbons audiotape. Upstairs, in the ceiling, sits a silver-haired woman (Ruth Silveira) who spies on Niklas and keeps a written record of his behavior and utterances. She also poetically narrates the play with a thick and authentic-sounding German accent, the soft tone of her voice adding emotion to her clandestine task. This is a superb performance from Silveira whose role holds some surprises.
Thematically similar to the Oscar-winning foreign movie The Secret Lives of Others, the difference here is that this story is staged after the Berlin Wall came down, though we do travel back to the shrouded past as Niklas unearths and pieces together the very surveillance episode he has been tirelessly seeking for almost two decades.
We learn startling statistics such as the far-reaching efficiency of the “˜Stasi”™ Secret Service organization; that there was one informant per every 6.5 individuals.Â Many people were coerced by threats — that were sometimes paired with incentives — to spy on each other. Clearly it was a grim time in Germany”™s history.
For the past sixteen years, Niklas has been sorting through 17,000 sacks of these narrow, shredded materials, searching for one key word that would lead him to the fragments of an important episode from the past. Eventually we learn why this episode is so vitally important to him.
This subject matter will be familiar both to those who remember this dark time in German history and to fans of The Secret Lives of Others, although it approaches it from a slightly different stance than the film. With his approach to his material, Padraic Duffy does a good job in creating a sense of urgency and elusive hope within the virtual futility of Niklas”™ quest.
What is overplayed, however, is the use of the cinematic device of a “˜ticking clock,”™ meaning that there is a finite period of time for our hero to complete his task. With Puzzler Duffy introduces two deadlines, which, rather than contribute a sense of urgency, just feel forced. Firstly, Niklas has merely one long night to unearth the remaining material he has only just uncovered before they take away those sacks for good. Then there”™s the mysterious American visitor Robin (well-played by Jeanne Syquia – a brilliant actress) who barges into the basement office, after hours, claiming she there to research her thesis. Almost immediately the savvy Germans are suspicious of Robin”™s story.Â But who is she really and why is she there? Robin suffers a grilling, but she”™s quite a tough cookie. Without divulging too much, her presence becomes the second “˜ticking clock”™ element”¦Â I say to Duffy just pick one because it all seems too contrived. During Act One I thought I divined Robin”™s true purpose and identity, but it turns out I was a little off the mark, so bravo to the playwright for avoiding a predictable outcome.
Duffy”™s play is gripping and emotional. Within some of his dialogue he allows the space for poetic observations. This subject matter is serious, yet there are droll quips from time to time. Above all, Puzzler is an absorbing drama – well worth seeing.
660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood, CA 90004
Runs until February 26, 2011
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm
Matinee – Sunday, Feb. 20th at 2pm
$20.00, available for purchase here.
or by calling (310) 281-8337
Approximately 2 hours, with one ten-minute intermission
Sacred Fools Theater is dedicated to creating and fostering a dynamic, empowered artistic community in Los Angeles. Run solely by the ensemble artists, the company”™s 14th season continues its commitment to the development of new plays and projects that challenge traditional expectations of the theatrical experience. Its goal is to produce work that invigorates, enlightens, and entertains. For more information, please visit their website.