Written and Directed by Jennifer Schlueter
Review by Ronald Gross
“Zerrissenheit” is a word that’s occurs early-on in NORTH, and it’s one we can all relate to today, when everyone frankly declares that they are “Crazy Busy”! Zerrissenheit translates as “Torn-to-pieces-hood,” and it’s employed by Saint-Exupery to help Anne Morrow Lindberg deal with her frantic struggles for fulfillment as a Mother, Wife, Companion, and Artist.
The play tells the story of a charged meeting between Anne, who was of course the wife of aviator Charles (and a highly-successful writer), and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the person whom she felt best understood her work – and to whom she was immediately drawn sexually into an unconsummated but lifelong romance.
Their brief meeting is the beginning point in a spiral of events and memories that ultimately make NORTH the story of one woman’s struggle to orient herself, to reconcile motherhood with work and love with duty, and to articulate the responsibility of the artist to a world succumbing to war.
Christina Ritter gives the performance of a lifetime as the central character, one of the richest roles for an actress that I’ve ever seen, rivaling Miss Julie, Nora, and the protagonist of Next to Normal. Ritter carries it off magnificently, playing the entire keyboard of emotions from the tragically hurt mother to the stifled celebrity-wife to the inspired feminist and artist. Her physical gifts are extraordinary: a smile as big as the Ritz, and a body that can express emotions ranging from exhilaration, through tremulousness, to rage.
Kalafatic Poole is the epitome of conventional masculinity as Charles, the man of action who, as Anne observes, is “just what you see on the surface, but it goes all the way down to the bottom.”
Christopher Marlowe Roche is mesmerizing as Saint-Exupery, the existentialist philosopher, artist, and resistance leader whose prophetic vision stirs Anne’s soul.
In keeping with the for/word company’s aesthetic philosophy, North is based in the historical record. The text is constructed exclusively from texts by the three personages. For most people today, each of them is frozen into a few historical simplifications: Charles flew the Atlantic in a bi-plane taking off from Long Island and landing in Paris to world-wide acclaim; the Lindberg’s baby was brutally murdered; Saint-Exupery penned the children’s classic The Little Prince. (Sadly, the Lindberg’s are also remembers by historians as notable isolationists who opposed the war against Nazi Germany, which is explored in the play too.) But here, this trio is brought back to full, complex, delicate life – through their own words.
NORTH was conceived by Christina Ritter & Jennifer Schlueter, and written and directed by Schlueter. The production was designed by Brad Steinmetz, with lighting by Anjeanette Stokes, costumes by Kristine Kearney, and choreography by Karen Mozingo.
The producing company, for/word, has an admirable and unique mission: to create dynamic stagings and innovative interpretations of material from the historical record. They declare: “We create our work by opening up the archive and the library, discovering stories and chronicles that, in some way, resonate for us, and building our performances exclusively out of the text we have unearthed…..(but) we're not interested in historical reconstruction, documentary theatre, or biographical drama. We are finding a way to get beautiful words and the fascinating people who wrote them onstage in vibrant, physical, and textured ways.”
That ambition is amply fulfilled in this incandescent production.