NEW YORK (AP) — There are many ways to find oneself in exile, deliberately or accidentally. Playwright John Guare has written three affecting stories about mid-20th century Eastern European artists who found themselves cut off from everything they once knew, and presents them in his dynamic new play, "3 Kinds of Exile."
Guare, author of "A Free Man of Color," ''Six Degrees of Separation" and "House of Blue Leaves," and an Olivier- and two-time Tony Award-winner, also makes his very effective off-Broadway acting debut in the world premiere production that opened Tuesday night at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Atlantic artistic director Neil Pepe provides crisp direction and diverse staging for each of the three tales, which provide stirring examples of overcoming fear and living with courage and humanity. The first one, "Karel," the story of a writer from Eastern Europe, is movingly told by Martin Moran. He relates the emotional and physical pain that erupted years after his friend Karel was sent away from home as a boy of 12 to escape the Nazis.
Told he was just going to England for a month of "summer camp" in 1939, Karel remained there and never saw his family again. Near the end, which comes with a compelling twist, Karel says, "I tell you this story to ask you how much of your life have you made up? How many people do you carry around in your life who are inventions of your fear?"
The second story, "Elzbieta Erased," about the downward spiral of Elzbieta Czyzewska, a formerly world-renowned Polish actress, is eloquently narrated by Guare (as himself) and co-narrated and archly enacted by Omar Sangare. Czyzewska's love life, temperament and career were so impacted by Cold War Polish-American political issues and her own "legendary bad luck" that she ended up banished and lonely in America.
Graceful and lively, Sangare mimics the actress, whom both men knew in real life; Guare even wrote a play for her. Concluding her story, Guare quotes a telling line said to be from a magazine article written about her: "Courage is a matter of someone who is really and truly afraid and yet carries on, as in war, someone who knows fear and yet gets up and keeps going each day."
The accidental exile of the writer Witold Gombrowicz (a drolly haunted David Pittu), who was on a ship docked in Argentina when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, is styled as a well-choreographed, feverish bad dream. The spirited, sometimes black-suited and bowler-hatted ensemble performs a series of darkly humorous dance numbers, occasionally surrounding and taunting Pittu in a menacing, rhythmic chorus.
These exiles cope with their situations in different ways, but Guare brilliantly relates their humanity in the face of totalitarianism.