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PROPOSAL - The Magic Fire


By Lillian Groag

Directed by Robert Leff

Vision Statement

THE MAGIC FIRE concerns a family of Italian immigrants in the Buenos Aires of the 1950s at the time of the death of Eva Perón. The father, Otto Berg, himself a refugee from Nazi Austria, and his family find themselves trapped in the fascist system of Juan Perón’s regime, and once again retreat, taking private refuge in books, music, theatre and the arts. Their next-door neighbor, Henri Fontannes, a high-ranking officer in the Peronist army, is most likely involved in secret police activity in which enemies of the state are known to “disappear.” He and his wife, Angelica, share with the Bergs the geographical location of their living quarters and an ardent love for the arts. When the reality of the political situation enters the Bergs’ own apartment (their maid’s brother is in hiding there), they are forced to confront their ethical choices—morals and politics in place of art, and Fontannes becomes the only man who can help them.


I saw the world premiere production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1997, which I liked.  While going through my large collection I found the script and wondered if it would work today.  Roles for seven women was a plus. Lillian Groag is an actor who also directs opera, so all seven women are wonderful characters.

This semi-autobiographical play is a comedy with a drama inside. The second act takes place during a birthday party which is funny; at the time, the maid’s brother is hiding from the police/army in the kitchen.

I found these two observations about the play in an article about a production done at the Old Globe in San Diego. “Narrated by an adult Lise, the play is an attempt to reconcile recollections of girlhood experiences with what may actually have happened. It is a memory play, but not simply a memory play, and the role of Lise presents a formidable challenge according to veteran actress Kandis Chappell, who takes the role in San Diego.

For the playwright, the play’s central questions are complex moral dilemmas. “What are the duties of the individual toward the community? Can a man really say, ‘I want to live privately and in peace,’ which is what Otto says? ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics.’ Is that a sayable thing? Is it moral to live that way?”

With the current rise of right wing politics in the United States and around the world, now is the perfect time to do The Magic Fire.

The title “The Magic Fire” comes from an event in the final act of Richard Wagner’s opera “Die Walkurie.” The closing pages of “Die Walküre” from Wagner's '"Ring" Cycle depict Wotan's displeasure at his daughter Brünnhilde's disobedience. His punishment is to put her to sleep on the Valkryries' Rock, surrounded by a wall of magic fire that only a true hero can penetrate.” The family believes their love of opera and ballet will protect them the world outside their apartment.

For this production, it is important that the cast looks like a family, but I can be flexible.  The characters range in age from 7 to 98.  Most of the characters are in their 40s and I will cast accordingly. Maddalena Guarneri is 98. I would cast an actor who can play 98; not who is 98.  Young Lise is 7 years old. It’s a demanding role, so I would cast an actor who looks 7, but might be older.  I would consider casting two actors as Young Lise. 

DESIGN The time period of The Magic Fire is June -July, 1952. The place is Buenos Aires.  The Prologue and Epilogue take place on The Docks. The set for these scenes will be created with sound and lighting. If possible, the shadow of a transatlantic steamer would be nice.

The play takes place in an old fashioned middle class faded drawing-room/living room in an apartment building. There are three important features: a large window with heavy drapes, a door leading to the kitchen (swinging door) and a doorway leading to other rooms in the apartment and the front door. The furniture, armchairs and settee, must be comfortable and faded. A period radio and recorded player are needed and are used throughout the show. A large dinner table is needed for the second act with seating for most of the cast. In acts one and three, at the table could “live” out of the way. Characters drink during the play. The bottles and glasses could be on a drink cart or on shelves.

An upright piano is needed ( It is played.) The playwright states, “perhaps no walls.” Finally. “The impression should be of an old Paris, or West Side Manhattan apartment.”

Costumes - The play takes place in June-July 1952. (Winter in Argentina)  In Act I Scene 1, the characters are dressed to go to the opera. Even though they are middle class, they follow a strict dress code at all times, but a few go their own way.  When Henri appears at the birthday party and in Act 3 Scene 2, he wears his military uniform. Except for Lise, the characters have at least two costumes.  She is dressed in 2000-2001 fashion. I think most of the costumes can be pulled from stock or borrowed. Doing Costumes in not a one person job

Props - The Magic Fire is a prop heavy show. Food is eaten in the second act and in Act 3 Scene 1.  There is a Prop List on Page 84. Doing Props is not a one person job.

Sound - There are many cues with specific recordings. Most can be found on YouTube.

Dancing - Otto,  Lise and Young Lise waltz during the play. Depending on who is cast, a choreographer might be needed.

Singing - A few times, characters sing along with opera recordings. They sing with passion and the love of music.

Links: "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" The first 0.44 is the opening/theme for The Magic Fire.

This is the Magic Fire Music from DIE WALKURE. 

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