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“Exquisite, elaborate” – VA Reps’ ‘End of War’ blurs the line between audience and show

Julie Clayton | March 15, 2017

There is no curtain separating theatregoers from the elaborate stage-set representing war ravaged Berlin in the last days of World War II in VA Rep’s production of The End of War.

As patrons strolled in with cocktails in hand, ushers guiding them to their seats, actors rummaged through bomb-beaten rubble, piling up bricks, searching for belongings, and calling for loved ones. There is simply no separation of audience from stage… just as there are no bystanders to the horrors of war.

Virginia Repertory Theatre’s 2017 Acts of Faith Festival entry (and world premiere) of The End of War is an ambitious endeavor fully realized.

Adapted from local novelist and playwright David L. Robbins’ novel of the same name, the stage version is an exquisite, elaborate production of a compelling story skillfully directed by Virginia Rep Artistic Director Nathaniel Shaw and brought to life with exceptional performances.

Two parallel storylines converge through stunning visual effects as actors and stagehands seamlessly shift the stage between the two stories. Throughout, Cellist Erin Snedecor sits in the balcony playing a melancholy tune – like the chorus in a Greek tragedy.

In his ‘Note from the Playwright’ Robbins remarks, “I have tried to put for you a museum on the stage, a timepiece of peril, endurance and immense grace from a war long behind us, told by characters who should seem as frightening and challenging as they are contemporary.”

And Robbins succeeds. Long after the applause died down, the question “What would I have done?” lingers.

Ilya (Nicklas Aliff) and Konsta (Wolf J. Sherrill) are two Russian soldiers separated from their units. They are just miles from Berlin. They can smell the end of war.

Aliff is outstanding as a man haunted by the ghosts of men who died by his own hand.

Sherrill’s strong performance is bogged down a bit by the wordiness of his character – Konsta is a “philosopher” who waxes poetic about the meaning of war. What might work as exposition in a novel occasionally slows the action on the stage.

Both men are determined to reach Berlin – Ilya for redemption, and Konsta for more sinister pursuits.

In the parallel storyline, Lottie (Eva DeVirgilis) – the only woman in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – is horrified to learn her mother Freya (Paige Larson) is hiding a Jewish man, Julius (Scott Wichmann) in their basement. Lottie fears for their safety and security. But Freya must find a way to preserve and honor the memory of her husband, and to assuage her guilt at what the Germans have wrought.

DeVirgilis and Larson are superb as the mother-daughter duo struggling to survive the end of the war. And though Wichmann is seen for only a few minutes at the end of the play, his voice haunts from behind the basement door.

As the stories inevitably come together for the dramatic final scene, the tension in the audience is palpable.

The End of War continues through March 26, 2017 at the November Theatre’s Arenstein Stage. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 804.282.2620 or by visiting www.virginiarep.org.