It’s seconds into Matchstick Theatre’s newest production and lights come up on the titular Peter Fechter, dying slowly from a gunshot wound. The year is 1962 and Berlin is partitioned by its controversial Berlin Wall. Having failed like many others to make the escape from the eastern side of the city, the eighteen year-old finds himself bleeding out in the infamous no-man’s land section, (ominously referred to as the death strip). As his condition worsens, Peter becomes more all knowing about the prior events leading up to his present moment. Written by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is based on real world events and packs a lot of story in its race against the clock.
Mirroring the play’s large social setting, Peter (played by Peter Sarty) finds his home life equally tenuous and fragile. Residing with his strict, insular father (Andrew Chandler) the pair find themselves living in uneasy silence following the abrupt departure of Peter’s mother (Rena Kossatz). Whereas it’s abundantly clear that his father feels no need to explain the reasons for her leaving, Peter remains steadfastly loyal to the ghost of her memory.
With the mystery of his mother’s absence haunting the hidden depths of his mind, the promise of a life filled with unrestricted freedom (and American porno) presents itself in the not-so distant and nearly-tangible mirage-esque entity of West Berlin. At the heart of the play’s push is Peter’s friend Helmut (Henricus Gielis). Confident to the near point of impulsiveness, Helmut is the catalyst prodding Peter into helping him orchestrate a major life-changing escape for them.
Director Alison Crosby has crafted a solid rendition of Tannahill’s original work. Finely acted, the supporting cast of Chandler, Kossatz, and Gielis revolve around Sarty’s fantastic performance. With Sarty’s sincere likability and an endearing sense of allegiance, you feel Peter’s hope as he reaches out into the dark hoping someone’s there to reach back. Equally taut as it is touching, 59 Minutes succeeds in pulling off a series of reveals while somehow finding humanity and something worth fighting for in an otherwise bleak and unfair time.