Guerrilla Filmmaking in SPAIN — Review
Tasked with coming up with a story about Spain on the fly, without having visited, what ideas might you conjure? There’s the wine, the bulls, the passion; all good material which two dotty filmmakers in 1936 Greenwich Village clumsily call upon when the KGB offers to bankroll their next production in exchange for some anti-Franco propagandizing at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
Jen Silverman’s Spain, premiering in a handsome production from Second Stage, is ostensibly a plea for virtue in art; a cry against the hollowness of “content” and the mendacity of state-backed media. But its elements — spy intrigue; disinformation; American soft power – are so haphazardly thrown together, it’s hard to believe they didn’t take the same approach as the play's cineastes. Even the choices of titular country, time period, and accompanying civil war seem arbitrary, or at least hastily recollected, which is why the inclusion of Ernest Hemingway, whose work is inextricably tied to the civil war and is here inexplicably portrayed as a mumbling introvert, has the phoned-in whiff of free association.
So the production works overtime to compensate by at least creating a unified language and, at this, it largely succeeds. Dane Laffery’s set is appropriately made of vanishing and rotating parts, all lit with noirish shadows by Jen Schriever. The intensity of their thematic focus, however, sometimes appears to mock the aimlessness of Silverman’s writing and Tyne Rafaeli’s direction, with Daniel Kluger’s original music creating moments of unintentional camp.
Its solid performances, led by Andrew Burnap and Marin Ireland as two people romantically and professionally set up by the KGB, are left as adrift as their characters, whose relationship’s poorly constructed imbalances are meant to drive the narrative. Ireland’s character seems privy to higher-class information than Burnap’s, though the script’s adherence to espionage-lite obfuscation, and reluctance to apply itself to any one idea, makes it hard to know. And without knowing their histories, motivations, or even in-scene dynamics, it’s hard to care. Danny Wolohan and Erik Lochtefeld play Hemingway and John Dos Passos against type, and Zachary James gets to sing opera as a Soviet agent.
A final scene set in the present day inches towards having something to say, but the rest of the play is too tonally mired in a Millennial shrug of, “Argh, adulting was hard even for KGB spies,” for that battle to win the war.
Spain is in performance through December 20, 2023 at the Tony Kiser Theatre on West 43rd Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.