Review: The fall of the ‘Geist’

Asya Danilova

  • New York Critic

It was partly a busy schedule, which held me back from writing the review of ‘Geist’ right after I saw it in the middle of September. But partly it was the great frustration caused by this production by Horizon Theatre Rep. It always upsets me when all of the elements I see in the press release promise something truly unique and potentially great but it comes out a huge mess where the parts don’t come together. That was the case with ‘Geist’, conceived, directed and stared by Rafael De Mussa, the artistic director of the Horizon Theatre Rep. 

‘Geist’ consists of five plays: “Sancta Susanna” (1911) by August Stramm, “The Guardian of the Tomb” (1916) by Franz Kafka, “The Transfiguration. 3rd station” (1919) by Ernst Toller, “Ithaka” (1914) by Gottfried Benn, and “Crucifixion” (1920) by Lothar Schreyer. De Mussa first started working on four of them in two workshop productions that launched Horizon Theatre Rep in 2001. In September 2014, five of these plays came together in a show called “Culture Shock 1911-1922”, which ran in the Access Theater. So it’s clear that these plays haunt Mr. De Mussa as he continues working on the show, organizing and reorganizing the material. And I can see why.

Put together, these five expressionistic plays, originally written in German, carry the “zeitgeist” of the beginning of the twentieth century in Western Europe, with its anxieties about the death of God and rapid development of deadly war science. ‘Geist’ is trying to recreate the dark, nihilistic and nightmarish atmosphere of the time by transferring the audience to the bombed out church where four solders (Rafael De Mussa, Cory Asinofsky, Sean M. Bell, and Adam A. Keller) and a nurse (Angela Dahl) read from the books laying in stacks around them. They reenact the five plays mentioned earlier without letting the books out of their hands leaving the audience suspended between the text and the physical space.

Busy set design resembles the back of an abandoned antique shop and consists of stacks of books, random pieces of furniture, paintings, and sculptures partly wrapped. Projections on a screen in the middle of the stage feature more artwork, documentary WWI footage, and stock video of clouds, sunrays and flowers. The intense sound and video design by Aristides Li is at times too literal and obnoxious which hurts the production greatly. You want to be left alone in the room with these moody and complicated expressionistic texts and yet you are being bombarded with more and more visual elements, which you simply can’t process. Some people snored while others left, which is especially noticeable in the chamber of the 4th Street Theater. I can only imagine how distracting it was for the actors, who, at times, seem completely lost and mechanical. 

‘Geist’ runs September 15 - October 2, Wednesday-Saturday at 8:30PM and Sunday at 3:30PM. The 4th Street Theater is located at 83 East 4th Street between Bowery & 2nd Ave. Tickets are $18, available at 212-868-4444 or