Maria Braun was a character borne of pluck and determination, whose civil wedding was interrupted by bombs of World War II, but not invalidated by it. She insisted the officiant sign the wedding document before they all fled for shelter. The war imbues the 1979 drama of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the German filmmaker who made it a crafty metaphor for Germany’s adaptation.
…satisfies and engages like the best of film.
In the surprisingly faithful adaptation of “The Marriage of Maria Braun” by Peter Marthesheimer and Pea Frohlich for the Scena Theater in D.C., the war means sacrifice, struggle and near starvation for a time. Maria is waiting patiently for her husband of one day to return from the front. She makes do working a bar. When she hears her husband was killed, she meets up with another man, an industrialist, with whom she rises in power. Then her husband Hermann returns.
The subsequent attempts at reunification may well be a metaphor for the country’s own mixed feelings toward it as the war ended. Maria’s own struggle to survive and then achieve as a ruthless businesswoman has parallels in similar American fare like “Mildred Pierce.” More than that, the seemingly contradictory impulses of the central character points to a deeper complexity.
Much of the success of Scena’s Maria Braun is due to the strong central acting by Nanna Ingvarsson, who combines drive with seduction in her nuanced portrayal. Her Danish background gives an authentic European tone to her character’s optimistic drive.
Just about everybody else in the cast has several parts, showing their versatility. Sometimes they hang out at the side of the stage near coat hooks of costumes, ready to turn into their latest incarnation. Among the standouts are the various suitors from an American G.I. played by Theodore M. Snead, and her lovesick employer Lee Ordeman.
It’s due to director Robert McNamara, the company co-founder and artistic director, who populates the play like a film, with characters shuffling by in crowd scenes or in bars, aided by a marvelous multimedia backdrop of TW Starnes using slides or films. Michael C. Stepowany’s set is one of utility and sparseness, just as in postwar Germany.
It’s the fourth adaptation of Fassbinder by McNamara, the second at Scena, now in its 26th season. McNamara has professed a kinship toward the filmmaker’s approach and that strong understanding helps keep the stage version moving with velocity and drive, one that won’t wait for an intermission and satisfies and engages like the best of film.
One gripe may be the inadequate setup for the explosive finale; it’s every bit as surprising and unexpected as it was in the film, but could have used a little bit of build up to add suspense or at least to explain what was happening.
Running TIme: One hour, 50 minutes. No intermission.
Advisory: The play deals with adult themes.
The Scena Theater production of The Marriage of Maria Braun runs through Oct. 11 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington D.C. Tickets are available at 202-399-7993 or here.