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Pains of Youth

Presented by Thalatta! at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway (at White St.), NYC, May 22-June 1.

The rescuing of this 1926 play, "Krankheit der Jugend," by Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner, has been the mission of a new Brooklyn-based group, Thalatta! (The group's name actually comes from this play, where it's identified as "a war cry from the Greeks.") The play has been given a direct translation by Harmony Hall, then further adapted by two cast members, Nikki Berger and Doug Howe, and it's well worth the rescuing. It presents a set of Viennese medical students who, in the disintegrating society after World War I, see only disillusion and death as possible alternatives. For the play's seven characters, sex and other stimulants are the currency as every possible relationship permutation is played out. And without being acknowledged, breathing heavily in the wings are Freud, Kraft-Ebbing, Nietzsche, and, alas, Adolf Hitler. But it is Bruckner's creation of vibrant characters and his skill with a telling scene that breathe life into this turbulent play.

Marie (Danielle Fink), a recent graduate, shares rooms with Desiree (Kimberly Ehly), a runaway duchess turned medical student who sleeps with the manipulative Freder (Doug Howe). When the love of Marie's life, Petrell (Dustin Brown), falls for a scientist named Irene (Nikki Berger), Marie's world crashes around her. Meanwhile, Freder is corrupting the maid, Lucy (Bronwyn Sims), leading her into crime, and Alt (Patrick Donnelly) observes all the resulting shenanigans with a world-weary resignation.

The bare-boards production, directed by Shannon R. Mayers, is best when the going gets really rough. This is a play of overwrought emotions, and the cast handles these fairly well. The naturalistic scenes, however, prove more difficult; an emphatic awkwardness and a missing sense of period dog several of the actors. Berger's rational Irene best conveys with ease the play's range of the ordinary and the extreme. While the translation has several gaucheries ("excellently," "treat people worse"), the play is a find and Thalatta! deserves credit for the welcome rediscovery.

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