Arlekin’s ‘The Stone’ is weighty, but powerful

Wolfgang (David Gamarnik) and Hannah (Olga Sokolova) in The Arlekin Players” “The Stone.” Photos by Irina Danilova.

NEEDHAM — If you have done much traveling in Europe, you know that the specter of World War II and Nazi Germany still hangs heavily over the continent, even more than seven decades after the war’s end end.

It still influences the politics of the continent, the way its people approaches major issues, and everywhere you go there are testimonials – cemeteries, plaques, named squares – that make you remember the horrors of what happened.

And so does The Arlekin Players’ production of  Marius Von Meyerburg’s “The Stone,” which follows three generations of Germans who live in one home at different times.

The play opens in Dresden – a German city later demolished by Allied bombs, events d to  in the story – in 1935, when a young couple — a veterinarian and his wife named Wolfgang and Wintha Reising (David Garmarik and Danya Denisova)  — “purchase” the house from a Jewish family. What happens next will serve as a metaphor for the war and the Nazis’ atrocities against the Jewish people.

The veterinarian’s family leaves after the war for reasons that remain mysterious; it is illegally occupied in the 1970s and ’80s; and then the veterinarian’s adult daughter and her teenage daughter reclaim the home in the 1990s. As secrets are uncovered and narratives rewritten, the action of the play shifts back and forth in time from the 1930s through today, with key events happening in 1945, 1953, 1978, and 1993.

“The Stone” does not unfold in a straight line. It jumps back and forth, and the theater provided a “road map” of sorts that allows theater-goers to identify and track the characters and disparate elements. Monitors around the stage alert you to the year in question of a scene, but “The Stone” remains difficult to follow throughout.

Director Igor Golyak uses the characters of two mute “conductors” – Jenna Brodskaia and Misha Tyutunik) – as facilitators who oversee the action from two ends of the stage, also providing feeds to the live television monitors around the stage.

 At no point is the goal to tell you a comforting story; instead, it is off-putting, deliberately so, as to reflect the behaviors on stage.

Gradually, the secrets buried in the earth garden that runs much of the length of the rectangular stage designed by scenographer David R. Gammons. as well as the secrets in the walls themselves, reveal themselves, and the events are a stand-in for the horror that became Nazi Germany and the Final Solution.

“The Stone” has an ethereal and other worldly feel, as events occur in haze and smoke and have a dreamlike feel to them, largely due to Jeff Adelberg’s lighting, perhaps making it easier to shift gears suddenly.

All of the players wear white garments designed by Nastya Bugaeva, garments dirtied by the earth of the garden that is prominently featured in the rectangular stage with the audience on two sides facing each other; the meaning of the dirt is obvious.

Jakov Jakoulov’s original music is emotional, often jarring and throbbing, and in harmony with the events onstage

The Arlekin Players were established in 2009 by a group of Russian immigrants to “offer a unique, creative home in the new world where artists from different backgrounds could experiment  and learn from each other. The troupe performed “The Stone” in Russian with English subtitles last spring to critical acclaim and decided to remount it again in English to address a broader audience.

There  is no doubting the passion and skill of the players and the power of the piece itself, but whether you consider it a satisfying theatrical experience depends on whether you’re willing to give it a chance and put up with discomfort, and perhaps your own confusion, until the playwright, the director and the players get to where they want to go.

The Arlekin Players’ production of Marius von Mayenburg’s“The Stone.” Directed by Igor Golyak. At the Arlekin Players Thea Theatre, 368 Hillside Ave., Needham MA, through Sept. 29.