in its tiny lobby theater lab, at West 36th Street, you must show proof of a booster shot to receive your tickets. You also need to wear a high-quality mask, but if you show up unprepared, the box office person will happily deliver one.
The wartime youths at the center of Theatrelab’s current play, “This Beautiful Future,” might realize the spirit of keeping things mindful if they could project themselves into our time over the decades.
Elodie (Francesca Carpanini), 17, from Chartres, France, doesn’t have the patience to be careful. August 1944 is a critical point in WWII, but a boy was hit, and that invalidates everything big and scary that adults have set in motion in the world.
Otto (Justin Mark) is 16 years old and new in town, shy, awkward and easy to taunt. When they first speak, Elodie reflexively knocks him to the ground. But there is a sweetness to her that she falls in love with, and when they meet at night in an abandoned house with thoughts of sex and romance in their minds, she asks him to dance with her.
“I don’t usually dance,” she says.
“Why?” she asks.
“Because girls say no.”
Despite a fascinating cloud of sadness hanging over “This Beautiful Future” by Rita Kalnejais, an Australian playwright living in London, the play is a dazed romance. Her fans are as young and extraterrestrial as Liesl from “The Sound of Music” and her Nazi boyfriend Rolfe.
“This Beautiful Future” achieves a remarkable, painful alchemy, not because Elodie and Otto are in trouble, but because they are ordinary and would have kept their innocence if there had been no war.
Otto is a Nazi, a member of the occupying forces; Elodie then relieves her discomfort. Too naive to realize that his arrested Jewish neighbors won’t be back, or that Otto is a big-eyed, easily manipulated soldier who admires the dictator he calls “Mr.” Hitler” – shot and killed the local population.
Kalnejais frames their story with a benevolent elderly couple, played by Jack Serio’s Angelina Fiordelli and a wonderful cast by the near-perfect Austin Pendleton. From the onstage karaoke booth on Frank J. Oliva’s set, they watch the young couple with sympathy and concern. Between scenes, they sing songs from Elodie and Otto’s time and our time (or, in Pendleton’s case, they talk and sing) and make laundry lists of the simple things they would change if they changed something in life.
“I don’t lose my sleep because of money,” she says. “Or being unlovable.”
“I used to sleep in the morning knowing that everything would change,” she says.
Elodie and Otto are just getting started, they don’t have that kind of wisdom yet. But they have hope, and you can hear it in their plans for a sunny future together. They have no idea how vulnerable they are or how cruel the world is ready to be.
Still, Otto could take some hints, if only he’d listened to himself.
“There is nothing cruel about choosing who lives and who dies,” he says, defending his mission. “We don’t randomly pick people. I couldn’t do this. It’s about choosing a future where everyone is clean.”
If Hitler had gotten an office job instead of going into politics, what would this morally crooked boy be like – what would the world be like? “This Beautiful Future” wants to know.
It is a game about choosing a truly better future step by step, with a wonderful and fragile ending as gentle as a new life, and what could be, what should never be and can never be undone. .
This Beautiful Future
At Theatrelab, Manhattan, through January 30; theaterlabnyc.com. Working time: 1 hour 15 minutes.