Holed up in a Budapest bar that serves as a refuge for all bohemian, gypsies, queers, and Jews, The Place We Built follows a maturing youth fighting to save their home, literally and figuratively. To put it bluntly, imagine a mash-up of some of the themes, situations, and morals of The Flea's 2015-2016 season and you get The Place We Built. The difference is, if you can get past the slight inconsistencies of dialect rules and documentary lighting rules, The Place We Built is near flawless. It's a politically charged docudrama that is raw, gritty, and purposely intense. Even with hints of character, Gancher's play is an integral plot driven piece. The characters are not nearly as important as the overall fight. It's a story about identity, heritage, and taking a stand. With an ending that is all too real, you have to be disappointed by the lack of victory, but that is the reality. Fights will fizzle as the ticking time shrinks and reality sets in. These characters wanted to do what they believed was right but being outnumbered trumps grandiose ideals. The message may feel unsatisfactory but not everyone can have a happy ending. With many decisions driven by love and exhilaration, The Place We Built watches a group of young Hungarians, lead by Aniko and Ben, who meet and take in like-minded bohemians to their Grandma parties and their ultimate creation, The Seagull, a bar and performance space. Gancher spatters the story nonlinearly with a documentary device. Sans the youngest squatters who’s presence barely gets explained, there’s a slow build up of character development but once each main character has their moment, The Place We Built takes flight. The running time may be long but if you’re engaged, it will fly by. With a backdrop based on truth and a plot that has inspiration from a real story, Gancher has to manage balance the two. With performance being a key part of the true story, infusing theatricality allowed The Place We Built movement. Between crude puppetry and cultural music, Gancher was able to evade feeling like a text book or Buzzfeed article. The necessary historical information was implemented properly, though The Place We Built could have used a dramaturgical insert to help set the scene and bring the audience into the performance prior to start.
|photo by Hunter Canning|
For those who may have seen Wolf in the River, the other production currently running at The Flea, you may recognize some elements from the set that is borrowed from that show. With a co-scenic design between Arnulfo Maldonado, the Wolf in the River scenic designer, and Feli Lamenca, you may have believed director Danya Taymor would be a slight disadvantage. The impressionistic design did work to create the grungy bar known as The Seagull. Taymor used all aspects of the space, smartly using the harsh corners sparingly. It’s likely you knew very little to nothing about the world of Gancher’s play yet Taymor did an impeccable job at bringing history to life in an compelling manner. You wanted to party with Taymor’s bohemians. Like the scenic design, The Place We Built borrowed lighting designer Masha Tsimring. For the most part, Tsimring’s design worked for this production with the grand exception of how the documentary light was used. Tsimring implemented a harsh diagonal white light that would then be interrupted by scene. Sometimes this light would be brought back if the speaker continued to narrate. Other times it was not. Consistency would have been nice, but it’s likely that the staging and shared space may be a cause. You can praise the musicians for their talent but you have to say thank you for the music to The Bengsons, the music consultants and arrangers. They offered the perfect mood and feel for this production.
No matter what happened in the end, you have to appreciate the fight the characters put up in The Place We Built. Their journey drove the play to success. Likewise, you have to appreciate the effort it took into building this play. Not all the pieces fit together, there were some occasional cracks. But no matter what, The Place We Built inspires.