Review: ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ at Scena Theatre

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As part of its 30th anniversary season, Scena Theatre has offered a stage adaptation of late German film auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Fear Eats the Soul, translated and adapted by Anthony Vivis, about the love and marriage of a Moroccan immigrant and a German woman. Director, and Scena Theatre’s Artistic Director, Robert McNamara has directed real and relatable performances in this entertaining stage adaptation. Fear Eats the Soul is provocative, stunning theater at its best.

Oscar Ceville and Nanna Ingvarsson. Photo by Bryanda Minix.

The show is timely in its theme of immigration assimilation and timeless in its theme of cross generational love. In a world in which Syrian refugees risk death fleeing into Europe, and the merit of Presidential executive orders restricting immigration into the U.S. are debated, Fear Eats the Soul is much more than the story of a 60-plus-year-old woman marrying a man well over 20 years her junior.

When Emmi meets Salem, their pairing, in 70s Germany, seems unlikely and odd. Nanna Ingvarsson, a 30-year veteran of Scena, brought a full bouquet of attitudes and moods to her character, Emmi. Oscar Ceville was top-notch as Salem aka Ali, Emmi’s younger lover, who was a somber-acting, somewhat lost individual. As Salem struggled to find his footing in a strange land (where guest worker immigrants were known to live six men to a room), the attitude he was subjected to was “German master, Arab dog.” Together, Ingvarsson’s and Ceville’s scenes were ripe with a bonded chemistry.

Anti-immigrant guest worker sentiment was high throughout the play, the attitude being: “All they think about is women.” Emmi’s children, Krista and Bruno, didn’t take their mother’s choice of a partner well: Jen Bevan and Ivan Zizek, as Krista and Bruno respectively, brought an emotional depth to their characters. The delightful and always entertaining Colin Davies (seen last year in Scena’s Antigone Now) was brilliant as both the officious landlord Herr Gruber and a bigoted grocer. Ellie Nicoll was fantastic as Davies’ grocer’s wife.

L to R: Ellie Nicoll, Karin Rosnizek, Stacy Whittle, Aniko Olah, Sissel Bakken and Nanna Ingvarsson. Photo by Bryanda Minix.

Rashard Harrison was excellent as Eugen, Emmi’s son-in-law and as a factory foreman. His scenes crackled with intensity. Karin Rosnizeck was sizzling as sultry bartender Barbara. Kim Curtis was hilarious as a peculiar-acting waiter and as an authoritative doctor. Gary DuBreuil (Albert\Second Policeman\Ensemble), Sissel Bakken (Frau Ellis\Hedwig\Ensemble), Aniko Olah (Paulina\Frau Munchmeyer\Ensemble), and Stacy Whittle (Katherina\Paula) rounded out a hardy cast.

McNamara used an interesting staging concept: six actors seated on either side of the stage, from which they moved to their respective places. Set Designer\Technical Director Dave Humke made good use of the Atlas Center’s Lab Theatre II black box space, and I liked the vintage, Old World-looking red-painted bar; the bar reminded me of German pop group Sailor’s 1976 hit “Glass of Champagne”. Costume Designer Sigrid Johannesdottir excelled in her dressing the German women characters in costumes that spanned from sexy to frumpy.

Fear Eats the Soul is a triumph of complex characters and raw emotions.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Fear Eats the Soul plays through June 4, 2017 at Scena Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab Theatre II -1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the door or purchase them online.

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