When you mention Michael Frayn's name in theatre circles, you'll likely conjure up images of his classic metatheatrical farce "Noises Off." But his recent dramatic works, including this, his current, have the potential to be more powerful, more influential and more epoch-making in the world of comtemporary theatre.
Based on the rise of Germany's first left-of-center coalition government since the Weimar Republic, headed by the legendary, painfully conflicted Willy Brandt, and his collapse in the wake of a Societ-bloc spy scandal, this play lays bare the fragility of international relations at the height of the Cold War. Structurally, it's a memory play from the point of view of the East German spy, Gunter Guillaume, with scenes shifting as his personal narrative demands. No specified set, few props, and only a handful of required light and sound cues make this a fairly easy staging.
Unless you count the actors and the director.
The director and the ten-member, all-male cast needs to research the history of divided Germany, the personalities of highly esoteric public figures, and even at one point the Norwegian language. Thankfully large portions of the information necessary to savvy the background for the play are found in a lengthy and detailed afterword, saving a great deal of headache in the creative process. But that doesn't take care of everything; these figures loom large in the history of the Twentieth Century, and recreating them on stage is work.
But the play is accessible, discussing technical aspects of German history without getting bogged down in dull repetitive detail. The characters are engaging and humanely rounded. The events happened nearly forty years ago, but they feel like they're happening right now.
This play is not for general audiences; its slow, contemplative pace and its interest in a political figure most Americans have never heard of will put of casual theatre-goers. But for dedicated fans of history, politics, and theatre, this articulate and thoughtful play will leave you with plenty to chew on long after the final curtain has wrung down.