THE JOURNALS OF MIHAIL SEBASTIAN
Adapted by DAVID AUBURN
Derived from JOURNAL: 1935 – 1944 By Mihail Sebastian
Starring STEPHEN KUNKEN as Mihail Sebastian
Theater at 45th Street, March 6 – April 4, 2004
Director/Artistic Director CARL FORSMAN
Scenic Designer NATHAN HEVERIN
Lighting Designer JOSH BRADFORD
Costume Designer THERESA SQUIRE
Sound Designer STEFAN JACOBS
Dramaturg CHRISTIAN PARKER
Stage Manager LARS PREECE
Press Representation KAREN GRECO ENTERTAINMENT
In a one-person treatise aimed at exposing the particular effect of anti-Semitic dictatorships in Twentieth Century Romania, THE JOURNALS OF MIHAIL SEBASTIAN, adapted by David Auburn, uses the undeniably eloquent and descriptive voice of the diarist-author to capture the torment of generations. Focusing on slices of increasingly difficult life from 1935 to 1944, JOURNALS attempts to present an anyman-everyman journey that has modern resonance. The strong source material gives Auburn’s adaptation a strong push in that direction, even if it does, ultimately, leave us with more questions than answers.
As JOURNALS progresses, strong, affecting lighting (Josh Bradford), a spare yet unexpectedly versatile set (Nathan Heverin) and the swift direction (Carl Forsman) only enhance the inspired, if necessarily hurried, performance that Stephen Kunken delivers as Mihail Sebastian, spokesperson for his generation and his nation. Sebastian, who survived the invasions only to perish in an accident unrelated to the war, detailed his days of uncertainty. As he goes from darling of the theater to persona non grata for reasons beyond reason, and beyond his control, we sense and hear the shift of priorities in the journal entries. Where concerns were once opening nights and wayward women, Sebastian soon finds himself concerned for the safety of his kin, pondering escape, and standing by as rights, property, livelihood and life is systematically stripped from the "Yids" of Romania.
Left to review the production based only on these elements, it would be hard to find flaws. Yet, JOURNALS is less a play than a performance piece with the markings but not the matter of a full, dramatic production. It never feels like a reading, but it never feels like a play either, and this left the work resonating with a strong sense of limbo existence. Perhaps this was deliberate, to heighten the sense of precariousness faced by Sebastian and scores of Jews in Romania and beyond. Perhaps it was only happenstance. Whatever the case, the lack of definition was perceptible.
Nagging nuances aside, I still find THE JOURNALS OF MIHAIL SEBASTIAN more than a worthy piece of theatrical creativity. It chronicles shameful and all too common occurrences in our recent, collective pasts. It gives voice to someone, long gone, who survived the strife, but who never had a voice until years after the genocide. Most importantly, perhaps, is that like so many literary treasures from the era, JOURNALS reminds us all of the resiliency of the human spirit when faced with unimaginable oppression. It reminds us that life is a valuable commodity, and that every day, no matter how ordinary, should be enjoyed to the fullest.
- Kessa De Santis -