by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
The sky’s the limit at the world premiere of Keith Reddin’s “Some Brighter Distance.” It’s a complex and engaging story of Arthur Rudolph (Jonathan Tindle), a complicated hero. On one hand, he helped America win the Space Race, but, on that other hand he acted with impunity. Or so he thought. His ugly past comes roaring forth when he meets with Robert Davis (LeRoy McClain) late in his life. Rudolph was a member of the Nazi party as most Germans were, but was he culpable of any atrocities? The devil is in the details. “How deeply was Rudolph involved?” becomes the play’s central question. There are no easy answers, but it makes for a fascinating story.
The play moves from different points in the scientist’s life from 1934 to 1984, flashing forward and backward seamlessly. We’re with him when he meets famed rocket scientist Werner von Braun (David Whalen). We’re with him when he meets his love interest, Marta (Elizabeth Rich). We’re also with him on May 7, 1945 when Germany surrenders to Allied Forces and War World II ends. Rudolph sits with Major Turner (Matthew Stocke) and signs a very important document; one that insists he was never a devout member of the Nazi party. That signature is wherein our story lies (hello, double entendre!).
Tindle is a treasure as the analytical and pragmatic man. Time shifts and events swirl around him. He transforms from younger to older and back again in a breath. It’s a stunning performance.
He’s backed up by a terrific cast. Whalen plays Braun with the bravado and boisterousness without becoming a caricature. He’s delightful as the bold, telegenic rocket man. Stocke isn’t a slouch either. His portrayal of Major Turner is nuanced, layered. McClain’s Davis dangles the Sword of Damocles with a smile. He’s a noble man who must punish wrong doing, even after we’ve come to know and like Rudolph. It’s a difficult role, but McClain handles it with aplomb.
Elizabeth Rich’s Marta Rudolph is the icing on an already delicious slice of cake. She is charismatic and charming as the wife of the scientist. Marta is much more conflicted about her history. Playwright Reddin gives her a lot to handle, and Rich handles it deftly.
Gianni Downs scenic design was sparse but spectacular. A lion’s share of the credit should also go to lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski and projection designer Jordan Harrison, who bring another layer to the tale with film, photographs and art.
The play is a masterful collaboration between the playwright and director Tracy Brigden. Their symbiotic relationship shines brightly throughout the production.
Reddin reminds us that even in the 40s, 50s and 60s when the world seemed black and white, there were just as many shades of gray as there are today and no easy answers.
Kudos to the City Theatre for being rewarded with the premiere of this brilliant new work. Surely, it will go the distance.
(“Some Brighter Distance” is at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.)