People ask me why do I review plays? What is it about them that keeps me coming back to the theater? Well, When I see a production as powerfully felt and timeless as Luft Gangster, directed by Austin Pendleton, my questions are answered. This play is a gem and everybody should go see it.
True, it doesn’t have the spectacle of Broadway, (although the set was highly effective) but it has heart and that speaks volumes to the plays impact. It is more common to see a movie based on a true story than a play. But playwright and actor Lowell Byers manages to tackle this true story about an American soldier, captured by the Nazis, well. Using interviews to inform the script, Byers weaves together this unfathomable story with dignity. How does one survive the horrors of war and witnessing the Holocaust? Lou Fowler somehow stayed alive throughout the ordeal of WW II and thank God he did. If he didn’t the theater community would not be richer for having this play to add to its canon. I commend Byers and the true “Lou” for having the courage to tell his profound story.
Byers also stars in the play, which I am always weary of. I do not like gratuitous casting. But Byers shows that he is more than just a playwright and researcher, he is also an actor who can hold his own. In fact, Lou is Byers second cousin, who the play is about. There was definitely something transcendental about his performance that made him a captivating leading man. His ensemble is equally impressive; Paul Bomba plays the fiery Vinny. Bomba adds some nice comic moments to this otherwise dark world. Yet, when Bomba’s spirit is finally broken, we weep with him. Adding a nice contrast is the one female role in the play, played by Casandera M.J. Lollar. Her beauty reminds us of home and what’s worth fighting for. Oh, she can act too, which is an added bonus. The scene between her and Byers is poignant and allows us to see into the inner crumbling of Byer’s psyche.
In our present political climate, this play is especially timely. It has been said that “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We must never again allow that kind of regime and thinking, that brought Hitler to power, to break its way into main-stream society. (I worry that it may be too late) I hope this play finds some funds and producers to take it to the next level, because it simply is needed. Luft Gangster reaffirms my passion for Off-Off Broadway theater and makes me feel privileged to respond to it. I don’t think I will ever forget this story, which says something because I see a lot of shows. There aren’t enough words to express how much this show impressed me.You have until April 30th to see this unforgettable play and triumphant saga.
Luft Gangster plays now through April 30th at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleeker St.