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Review: A talented ensemble builds an engaging story in ‘The Place We Built’ at the Flea

By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, April 16, 2016

A young man finds the apartment his grandparents, Jews, lived in many years before. The apartment is deserted—a few old letters, a suitcase, some photographs—and the neighborhood nearly so. But in that abandoned apartment in that decrepit former ghetto in post-communist Budapest, this young man and his friends create a bar. A bar, and much more than a bar—a place of refuge, of freedom, of exploration. For these young people are reclaiming a Jewish identity lost and abandoned by prior generations during and after the Holocaust.

They do exactly what young people have done in so many places and so many times: They talk (a lot), they argue, they learn, they love, they sing, they dance, they create. And as authoritarianism and anti-Semitism grow in their homeland, they fight to save the place they built. Given 23 hours to vacate by the police, the play jumps moves back and forth in time, from the origins of the relationships and the beginnings of the bar, which they’ve named the Seagull, to the tense hours and minutes leading up to their midnight deadline.

The performers are members of the Flea’s resident company, the Bats, and they are a talented bunch. Written by Sarah Gancher, the play’s many characters and complex structure teeters on the edge of confusion, but thanks to wily direction by Danya Taymor, it never tips into chaos. Thanks also to the character of a young American woman who is documenting the story, we are able to hear each of the main characters speak directly about their past and their reasons for coming to, and becoming a part of, the Seagull.

It’s a thoughtful and emotional piece of writing and performance, with superbly developed characters and slowly intensifying and gripping action. The bar evokes punk and graffiti, an edgier time in an edgier place. But it also speaks to the energy and optimism of youth at all times, to the hopefulness of young men and women learning about themselves, and life, for the first time. Thanks to the small space—filled so well by the design team of Arnulfo Maldonado and Feli Lamenca—and the powerful writing and talented performers, we become part of their story, and their fight.


The Place We Built runs through May 23 at The Flea Theater, 41 White Street. Approximately 2 hours with 1 intermission. For more information, click here.




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