Olney Theatre Center presents Michael Frayn's Democracy

I first saw Frayn's Democracy in its original production at the National Theatre in London. That production was stunning. I love intelligent plays, and Democracy is a play of political intrigue that demands you pay attention. Frayn is an impressive writer; his subjects are quite different (Noises Off, Copenhagen), yet his plays have a consistent style. They contain complex plots, demand a quick pace, and engage the mind.

Democracy dramatizes the story of German chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant Günter Guillaume. When he was hired to work for Brandt's office, Guillaume had been a spy for East Germany for over a decade. The discovery of Guillaume's affiliation was one of the major influences leading to Brandt's resignation in 1974. The play chronicles the growth of their relationship, Guillaume's admiration and affection for Brandt, and his internal conflict over betraying Brandt.

The complex plot requires multiple locations and a set capable of adapting quickly to various purposes. Olney's set works well with the script. Center stage contains a rectangular parque floor. This section serves as multiple offices and places. Surrounding this is a red walkway, representing the hallways of Brandt's office. Stage left is a large brick wall with three doorways topped by three windows topped by three smaller windows. The middle section provides an additional level and playing space for Brandt. This wall connects to an Esher-eque wall stage right. Right is three stairways leading to three platforms, the bottom one being the functional one. The different style of set on the right and left side mirrors the division of East and West Germany.

Democracy requires a cast of ten adult men. When a theatre produces this play, you expect to see the best male middle aged actors in the area. Olney certainly assembles a cast up to the task. This in combination with a well-set pace and the direction of Jim Petosa bring about a production that is nearly as good as the original I saw three years ago.

Providing important support is James Slaughter in the role of Arno Kretschmann. Slaughter's presence is a welcome addition to this production. In the role of Kretschmann, the stasi officer to whom Guillaume reports, Slaughter is on stage for nearly the entire play, watching the interactions that Guillaume witnesses. He knows how to come forward into prominence in the scenes where he supports and influences Guillaume, and he knows how to fall back when the focus is on Brandt or others.

Jeffries Thaiss is likable and energetic as Günter Guillaume. He carries the play and the audience along quite nicely, though his emotion can seem a little forced at times.

The true gem of this production is Andrew Long as Willy Brandt. Long is completely believable at the charismatic, engaging leader. He carries himself with a quiet power often found in politicians. It is this quality that women often find attractive. Indeed, the play makes mention of the fact that Brandt was know to have flings and affairs everywhere he went. Well, thanks to Long's performance, you can see why.

Long is most remarkable when he is thinking. It is a rare actor who can convincingly ponder and consider, without words. Brandt's constant analysis of the situations he finds himself in plays across Long's face and eyes. Long gives a wonderful performance.

4 stars
Through August 12th


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