By Lucy Komisar
The promotion for “Spain,” a new play by Jen Silverman, says, “Step into a sophisticated, slippery world where the line between truth and fiction is all in the packaging. It’s 1936, and a pair of passionate filmmakers have landed their next big project: a sweeping Spanish Civil War film with the potential to change American hearts and minds. It just happens to be bankrolled by the KGB. This seductive and funny new play about the art of propaganda and the dangerous ongoing Disinformation Age explores how art can change the world—for better and worse.”
Unfortunately, the promo is fiction.
The play takes place in 1936 in the West Village (the chic part of Greenwich Village, in case you didn’t know). The Spanish Civil War is raging. The goal of the film would be to end U.S. neutrality which favors the Franco fascists. Certainly true that the U.S. favored the fascists.
It is based on the story of a Dutch filmmaker who made a movie “The Spanish Earth,” written by Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos and released in 1937.
The key characters Joris Ivens (Andrew Burnap) and Helen (Marin Ireland), his collaborator pretending to be his girlfriend, have gotten a commission from the Russians (the KGB, which sounds a lot darker) to do a film about the war. There is no evidence the Russians financed it. So, the play is fake to start.
Could have been an interesting political play. Except it isn’t. You can see from their story board that the filmmakers know a lot about Spain. “Tapas, quesadilla, sangria, bulls…” Was this a satire?
Wrong. It falls flat all by itself. I found it so unimpressive that the morning after I was hard pressed to remember it. Can’t blame the actors, they create the parts Silverman wrote.
The direction is by Tyne Rafaeli, who uses the black box set to make the staging interesting even if the text is not.
Zachary James as KGB officer, first in tux and then as film noir character, photo Matthew Murphy
The bad KGB guy (Zachary James) is a noirish caricature, first in a dinner jacket, then enveloped in smoke. Back to satire?
Actually, the disinformation was in the promotion. In the current time of Russiagate (the fake media attacks on Russia) it could have been an attack on Russian propaganda.
So back to the text. The play has early lines about “the conflict between rich and poor,” “the noble peasant crushed by the rich fascist,” and how they must rise up and revolt — all true. Or don’t you know the story of Franco Spain?
But then the play drops politics and becomes about truth in film artistry. And throws in the famous names Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos the filmmakers want as collaborators, which always gets audience attention.
But the conversation is hardly about artistry.
To Dos Passos: “Oh, you have tenure?”
Hemingway: “I do art. What does a person know of war.”
BTW, this play was not seductive or funny and said nothing about art changing the world. Most of the conflict was between Joris and Helen and Dos Passos and Hemingway in their self-promoting roles as filmmakers/writers.
Of course, major reporting has proved how the U.S. government has done just what this play claims (without evidence) the Russians have done.
Is this why an anti-fascist story that targeted the U.S. became an anti-Russia story? Is Silverman working for the U.S. Deep State? Joke. But, see links above. Ya never know.
“Spain.” Written by Jen Silverman, directed by Tyne Rafaeli. Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, 305 West 43 Street, NYC. Running time: 1:30. Opened Nov 30, 2023, closes Dec. 17, 2023. Review on NY Theatre Wire.