Review: A Salon With Strangers in a Freewheeling ‘War and Peace’

Review: A Salon With Strangers in a Freewheeling ‘War and Peace’

The performance is a kind of salon hosted by a personable cast (Sean Patten, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost and Simon Will), with a few onstage guests selected from the audience. As they eat and drink around a table (the set is by Romy Kiessling), the actors engage the civilians in conversation that goes well or less well, depending. It’s the sort of guided randomness that Gob Squad loves: potentially uncomfortable engagement with one’s fellow human beings.

The show turned 2 this month, and it’s mind-boggling to consider how much has happened since its premiere: the Brexit vote, the election of Donald J. Trump (obliquely mentioned in the performance as “you know who”), the escalation of the culture wars to their current fever pitch. Alliances that have largely kept the peace in the West since World War II look shakier now.

So Gob Squad’s topic could hardly be timelier, but the show struggles to find urgency and resonance. It’s a changeable piece, yet it often feels a shade stale and abstract — which is strange when this Berlin-based British-German company’s own members are straddling the Brexit divide.

One of the most affecting moments directly acknowledges Europe’s ugly, not-so-distant history, briefly wondering what Mr. Patten’s British grandfather — a World War II veteran who hated Germans — would think of his grandson’s German wife and German passport.

But the most viscerally intense moment arrives with a very recent addition to the roster of characters, making a cameo in a parade of historically significant leaders, each one’s name projected huge on the upstage screen. (Video design is by Miles Chalcraft and Anna Zett.)

Out strides Emma González (Ms. Thom), a charismatic figure who holds the stage with her silence. It’s a tribute, not a sendup, and a forceful reminder that sometimes people start fighting because they’re desperate to stop the slaughter.

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