Review: "This is not a time of peace" Mounts a Multi-layered Memory Play

This is not a time of peace

Written by Deb Margolin

Directed by Jerry Heymann

Presented by New Light Theater Project at Theatre Row

410 W 42nd Street, Manhattan, NYC

February 20-March 16, 2024

Charlotte Cohn as Alina, Roger Hendricks Simon as Hillel. Photo by Steven Pisano.
The title of Deb Margolin's new play, This is not a time of peace, is spoken twice in the course of the performance, each time in reference to a different era. This doubling not only draws attention to historical correspondences but also evokes the play's emphasis on memory and experience–every part of which, we are told, "is still happening" "somewhere in time"–as fluid and malleable and exceeding boundaries, a conception echoed in the form of the play itself. Based in part on autobiographical connections to Margolin's actual father during the Cold War and making its world premiere at Midtown's Theatre Row, This is not a time of peace sketches parallels between the personal and the political in its compelling rendition of a story at once intimate and with far-reaching resonances.
Steven Rattazzi as Joseph McCarthy. Photo by Steven Pisano.
A pair of monologues delivered by professional writer Alina (a spectacular Charlotte Cohn) provide a frame for the play and, taking place in 2020, represent its most contemporaneous portions. The rest of the show looks back, back to when Alina was still married to her gadget-loving husband Moses (Simon Feil) in the early 2000s, and further back to her father Hillel's (Roger Hendricks Simon) encounter with McCarthyism half a century prior. The boundaries among these tangled threads of memory prove less than resilient as the narrative progresses, but one certainty from the outset is that Hillel's past experiences have resulted in passing on what Alina refers to as a kind of "epigenetic" trauma. Hillel, a Jewish scientist with roots in Russia who worked for the U.S. government, lost his security clearance during the national persecution of Communists in the 1950s. But what were the specific circumstances? Was her father in fact a Communist? And did he really cross paths not only with the reprehensible Senator Joseph McCarthy (Steven Rattazzi) but also with storied McCarthy opponent Adolf Berle (Frank Licato)? Where does a Muscovite named Daniil (Richard Hollis) fit in? While Alina can still talk to her elderly father about his past, she commits to unraveling its mysteries and ambiguities.
Charlotte Cohn as Alina, Simon Feil as Moses. Photo by Steven Pisano.
As she attempts to pin down answers concerning Hillel, whose age-related lapses are an affecting part of Hendricks Simon's multi-dimensional performance, Alina's own domestic life is threatening to come undone. While she loves Moses, or maintains that she does, she has found herself having an affair with poet and novelist Martin (Ken King), about whom she has similarly conflicted feelings, and whose possessive passion and alpha masculinity present a sharp contrast to amiable IT worker Moses. The assertive physicality in scenes between King and Cohn fruitfully complements the sense skillfully created in scenes between Cohn and Feil of a sort of polite marital machine chugging along atop an expanding void of distance between its partners. Throughout, the sound and lighting design is put to subtle, even sparing, but quite effective use to generate unease, suggest confusion, and more, while the set design hints at a mesh of neural pathways as much as it does a network of roots.
Ken King as Martin, Charlotte Cohn as Alina. Photo by Steven Pisano.
This is not a time of peace makes clear the consonance between McCarthy's language of internal enemies and the political rhetoric of today ("Communist" has retained its place among those enemy ranks by morphing into the more nebulous "socialist"). Alongside but inextricable from such linkages are its insightful explorations of guilt, betrayal, and fractured senses of belonging, as well as of the strength to do what we can for others/the Othered. Alina says that things only seem to end, and This is not a time of peace can be one of those things for anyone who sees it.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


Popular posts from this blog

Review: The Immersive "American Blues: 5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams" Takes Audiences on a Marvelously Crafted Journey

Review: "How To Eat an Orange" Cuts into the Life of an Argentine Artist and Activist

Review: From Child Pose to Stand(ing) Up: "Yoga with Jillian" and "Penguin in Your Ear" at the Women in Theatre Festival