An off-kilter atmosphere permeates Gabriel, the latest show from Walking Shadow Theatre Company, now playing at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.
Even history buffs might not know that a part of Britain was occupied during World War II, but the island of Guernsey was captured by the Germans without firing a shot in 1940. It would remain in Nazi hands until the final months of the war.
See also: Walking Shadow's Gabriel Aims for Mix of Tension, Drama[jump]
The remaining residents (the young men were off fighting the war; most of the children were evacuated) lived as best they could. In Moira Buffini's play, we see the world through the Becquet family, who have been exiled from their home to a cramped cottage nearby.
Walking Shadow's production gives us a sense of the conditions, even on the wide Theatre Garage stage. It also moves deeply into the motivations of the characters, which is ultimately the most satisfying part of the show.
Matriarch Jeanne deals in the black market and romances the German officers to get by, daughter Estelle fights a one-woman war against the occupiers of her home, and daughter-in-law Lily hides her Jewish heritage, as the others on the island have disappeared.
Two changes come into their lives. First is a strange new officer, Von Pfunz, who is quick to laugh even when nothing funny is going on. And then there's a mysterious stranger who washes up naked on the shoreline.
The man can't remember a thing, but he speaks excellent English and even better German. Is he a downed pilot? An SS officer who washed overboard? Maybe, as the name he is given implies, he is something a bit more mystical?
The plot turns with plenty of elements lifted from farces (layers of lies, mistaken identity) but the results here are far more deadly. That gives the script plenty of intrigue to keep the action moving, while a talented company of actors adds weight to the characters.
Leading the charge are Katherine Kupiecki as Jeanne and Miriam Schwartz as Lily. It's clear that the two characters don't like each other much, but the actors add in stray glances and tones of voice to show that the family bond wins out over their feelings.
Wade A. Vaughn plays Von Pfunz for all he's got, creating a character that would be hilarious if you didn't sense that he would gladly pull out his pistol and shoot if given the chance.
The action threatens to overheat into melodrama at every turn, but the full company tamps that down enough to make a play with menacing Nazis, a mystical "square of power," and someone who just might be a fallen angel work.
IF YOU GO:
Gabriel Friday through October 11 Minneapolis Theatre Garage 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis $10-$22 For tickets and more information, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online.