Review: 'Describe the Night' Offers Unique Historic Perspective

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 28, 2022

Michael Liebhauser and Donnla Hughes in "Describe the Night"
Michael Liebhauser and Donnla Hughes in "Describe the Night"  (Source:GAMM Theatre)

The Gamm Theatre and Artistic Director Tony Estrella open their 38th season with a shockingly relevant and timely work about war, storytelling and history. "Describe the Night" by Rajiv Joseph is a grand two-act play spanning 90 years that connects its characters in unexpected ways. In the play, Russian writer Isaac Babel (Michael Liebhauser, last seen in Gamm's "A Midsummer Night's Dream") relates his musings about war with fellow soldier Nikolai (Sean McConaghy) in the Red Cavalry.

From that opening in 1920 to 1989, then eventually 2010, Joseph (who won an Obie Award for Best New American play for this work) examines events of war and facts told by those who were perhaps the victors. The threads of the story are very much about retelling the facts of the past and how we may distort those memories over the years. Presenting not one but four actual historical figures, "Night" is an epic ride through a fever dream of distorted reality.

Vova (Jeff Church, playing a future Russian president with a chilling performance) spies on Urzula (Gabrielle McCauley, Burbage resident actor) with relish, and falls for her. A car rental agent (Dan Garcia) is thrust into helping a journalist (Sophia Blum) by giving her a journal that the KGB deems as "subversive;" and the wife of Nikolai (Donnla Hughes, last seen in Gamm's "Ironbound") is left in a mental institution. If all of this seems confusing, it's merely Joseph's method of introducing characters that are connected in some way.

Besides the fact that some of this story is part history and part fiction, it does keep you on the edge of your seat thanks to some grand sound and lighting designs; Alex Eizenberg and Jeff Adelberg, respectively, weave these around a moody, immersive show. Joseph injects much humor with each character regaling us about a fictional Polish soup, a disgusting way to tell the future (something about goats' rear ends), and some clever dialogue, all of which is deftly spoken by a well-selected cast.

"Night" gives a decidedly American observation about foreign powers, yet it seems that given the 90-year span of time our characters inhabit, we can imagine them as people we actually know as relatives, friends or even partners. It even touches on Babel's homosexuality; we're given a frightening look into a past where such behavior is rewarded with death. Director Estrella and his tight and gifted cast beg us to look closer and examine their emotions and situations. It's a wild ride, but a ride you may want to take before it leaves.

"Describe the Night" is running at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI 02886. Masks are now optional for performances. For information or tickets call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.