Last season, talented artistic director Igor Golyak examined the odyssey of a maturing fictional Russian writer in the drama “Dead Man’s Diary” at Arts Emerson’s Liebgott Theatre with remarkable sensitivity. Now Arlekin Players opens its 10th anniversary season with the same rich intimacy – this time in a visually arresting staging of the Marius von Mayenburg’s 2008 play “The Stone” at its own cozy venue in Needham.
Set in Dresden, Germany from 1935 to 1993, Mayenburg’s insightful play explores the truths and lies alternately buried and uncovered in the garden and dirt of a house that a Jewish family reluctantly sells during Hitler’s rise. That home becomes a character in its own right – kudos to David R. Gammons’ disarmingly captivating scenography – over the course of seven decades, as the lighting of the house brightens and dims with the fortunes of the house’s inhabitants.
In this house rich in metaphor, dirt and earth lie below an elegant chandelier, and upside-down chairs are suspended on the ceiling, above a tilted piano. Are the histories of the play’s diverse characters equally tilted? Is the legend that Hannah, the contemporary heroine, has learned about her grandfather, genuine? Did he actually finance the escape and visas of a Jewish family via Amsterdam to the United States? Does the title stone allude to the actions of the Nazis? The answers have as much to say about the dark side of humanity and the inaccuracies of memory as they do about what it means to be a hero to younger family members.
Director Igor Golyak’s pacing is strong, and the play’s actors work well together. Olga Sokolova is a standout, capturing the angst and disillusion of Hannah when she speaks about her family. Viktorya Kovalenko conveys the determination of Heidrun, Hannah’s mother, and the daughter of the German couple who bought the house from the Jews in the ’30s, to uncover the truth. Darya Denisova has the right frantic quality as Heidrun’s mother, the weary Witha. David Gamarnik smoothly balances the contradictory reserve and sudden volatility of Wolfgang, Witha’s husband. Rimma Gluzman is commandingly imperious as Mieze, the Jewish wife, particularly when she stands her ground about the home’s signature piano.
During a pivotal thunderstorm sequence, all six ensemble cast members don rain gear and sit together. Is von Mayenburg intimating hope even during a moment of despair? Is it an advisory about the power of family and human connection? No matter how you view the result, Golyakin has clearly polished “The Stone” with the care of a master sculptor.
“The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre, Needham, through Sept. 29. Call 617-942-9822 or visit arlekinplayers.com.