‘Culture Shock 1911-1922’ Revisits ‘Bunker Life’ in World War I


As the world reflects on the centennial of World War I, Horizon Theatre Rep presents “Culture Shock 1911-1922,” an evening of German Expressionist plays that were born of the age that gave birth to it. The production, conceived and directed by Rafael De Mussa, includes “Sancta Susanna” (1911) by August Stramm, translated by Henry Marx; “The Guardian of the Tomb” (1916) by Franz Kafka (Kafka’s only play), translated by J. M. Ritchie; “The Transfiguration” (1919) by Ernst Toller, translated by Edward Crankshaw; “Ithaka” (1914) by Gottfried Benn, translated by J.M. Ritchie and “Crucifixion” (1920) by Lothar Schreyer, translated by Mel Gordon. Performances will be September 4 to 21 (opens September 7) at Access Theater, 380 Broadway in TriBeCa.

Joyce Laoagan. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

All five plays were responses to the basic apocalyptic mood and agitated spiritual state of early 20th century in Europe. Director Rafael De Mussa says, “There is a common thread. Each play, in its own way, speaks about God to a generation that was crushed spiritually by the war.” Throughout, there are many biblical references, a sense of spiritual agitation and a view of an apocalypse coming.

The soldiers of the production are not specific to any nationality and the message is meant to be universal. Even though the plays were all written by Germans, most of the visuals in the production are Italian, French and English and while the settings are adapted to “Bunker Theater,” the plays themselves are not tampered with. Most are short one-acts and are presented intact. However, in Toller’s “The Transfiguration,” only the third station of a longer work is being used.

Wilton Yeung. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

“Culture Shock 1911-1922” is conceived and directed by Rafael De Mussa. The acting ensemble is Joyce Laoagan, Wes Hager, Will Hardyman, Wilton Yeung, Josh Wolonick and Rafael De Mussa. Lighting design is by Daniel B. Barbee. Multimedia programmer is Aristides F. Li. Set design is by Joseph Kremer. Costume design is by Amanda Lieber and Rafael De Mussa.

Horizon Theatre Rep (www.HTRonline.org), founded and led by Rafael De Mussa, is an Off-off-Broadway theater company dedicated to seldom-produced masterpieces of world theater. Since 2001, it has produced 15 mainstage productions including “Benito Cereno” by Robert Lowell, “The Misunderstanding” and “Caligula” by Camus, “Vassa Zheleznova” by Gorky, “Nights Of Wrath” by Armand Salacrou, “Powder Keg” by Dejan Dukovski, “Man Without Shadows” by Sartre, “In The Solitude Of Cotton Fields” by Bernard-Marie Koltes, “3XPirandello,” three plays about betrayal by Pirandello and “The Balcony” by Genet. The company endeavors to find a contemporary idiom to tell early and mid-20th century stories and to bridge the generation gap. It wants its audiences to see its plays with new eyes and understand them in new contexts. The company also strives to give emerging artists “the opportunity to take risks, to excel, and to make their mark.”

Reviewers have repeatedly praised director Rafael De Mussa for his idealism and his insight into modern classics. Reviewing “3X Pirandello” in 2000, Irene Backelenick (Backstage) commended him for his “unerring direction” and deemed the production “fascinating.” Louise Gallanda, writing in Fringe Propaganda, agreed, stating, “Director Rafael De Mussa is to be commended for his skillful mounting and understanding of Pirandello’s mind.” Theatre Is Easy called “Caligula” (2008) “What off-Broadway should be.” Reviewing “The Balcony” in 2013, Steve Capa wrote in New England Entertainment Digest, “De Mussa’s vision is well executed. He’s grappled with this bete noir of the modern canon quite well. We’re grateful for a company that takes on such a work like this. I’ll look for them next season.”

“Culture Shock 1911-1922” will be presented September 4 to 21, 2014, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM, by Horizon Theatre Rep (www.HTRonline.org) at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York City. General admission is $18. For more information call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.