IT’S 1987 IN East Berlin. Under Soviet rule, the wall that divides Germany is still intact. This is the setting for Canadian playwright Richard Sanger’s Whispering Pines. The play, which debuted at the Great Canadian Theatre Company on Oct. 28, sets themes of betrayal, pain, and espionage against the greater fight for freedom and truth.
The play follows Renate (Tracey Fernecz), a German painter, who’s in a relatively happy relationship with poet Bruno (Paul Rainville). The couple, living under Soviet rule in East Berlin, finds their lives suddenly disrupted when Thomas (Kris Joseph), a Canadian academic, arrives at their doorstep with stories and presents from the Western world. Week after week during the fall of 1987, Thomas returns to the couple’s dingy apartment for dinner and long discussions about socialism, capitalism, and freedom.
The setting changes for the second half of the play. Almost 20 years after the fall of Berlin Wall, the three reunite in a Canadian motel run by Renate near Lake Superior—and it’s there where all the lies and deceit told by the characters come unravelled.
Whispering Pines, directed by Brian Quirt, is presented in an unusual way. The actors repeatedly break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience while other actors remain in tableau. The script, relatively linear, jumps back and forth between present time and 1987, and the same scenes are sometimes told again from another character’s point of view.
All in all, the play falls somewhere in the middle of wonderful and horrible. The continuous breaks in dialogue and interaction between characters are meant to clarify the plot, but all they really do is disrupt the action, causing the audience to lose interest. The disruptions make it difficult for the audience to connect with the play and give no insight into what the characters feel.
The characters deal with heavy material. Ideas about propaganda, socialism, and capitalism can be long and dreary. The play makes politics seem more boring than a session at the House of Commons—a difficult feat for a politically charged play, but there are times when the action is engaging and the story moves along quick enough.
The set is completely bare, aside from a couple of microphones, chairs, a table, and a white screen displaying forest scenery. The simplistic set-up offers a very rustic feel, which fits well with the heavy forest symbolism throughout the play. The emptiness of the stage allows the actors to roam free and leave no area untouched.
Overall, Whispering Pines does a decent job in portraying life during and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It helps a generation that never experienced communism relate to ideas put forth in the play. It questions our “free” society and ideas about truth in life and in politics. Even though the play jumps around and is repetitive, it’s well suited for history buffs or people who are interested in the human side of war.