NEEDHAM — Our collective memory of the past is always vulnerable to self-serving revisions, never more perniciously than when what’s at stake is the truth about a monstrous chapter of world history.
In Arlekin Players Theatre’s fascinating production of German playwright Marius van Mayenburg’s “The Stone,’’ the mind-bending scope of Nazi crimes is distilled to the 60-year story of a single house in Dresden that is wrested from its Jewish owners in 1935 by a young German couple.
The usurpers then proceed to construct a myth about the episode that doesn’t just exonerate them from guilt, but even paints them as having heroically helped Jews escape the Nazis and then being subjected to a large stone hurled through their window in reprisal. That lie is passed down the generations until the truth is finally excavated.
“The Stone’’ is a winding journey across historical epochs toward a kind of justice that is staged with clockwork movement, ingenious design, and a spellbinding theatricality by Arlekin Players Theatre, all of which help sustain the play through a number of opaque and obscure sequences.
A Russian troupe of immigrants that was founded 10 years ago and is led by artistic director Igor Golyak, Arlekin was the force behind one of last year’s highlights in Boston theater: a Golyak-directed production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “A Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel.’’ The artistic director is at the helm again for “The Stone,’’ which Arlekin staged earlier this year in Russian and is now presenting in English.
While neither playwright Mayenburg nor director Golyak appear to have much interest in making things easy for the audience, “The Stone’’ reveals itself layer by absorbing layer as the play jumps around in time in nonlinear fashion, making stops in 1945, 1953, 1978, and 1993 while returning again and again to the play’s original sin — that prewar moment of dispossession — which occurs as the persecution of Jews is well underway in Germany.
That moment is framed as an encounter between the two wives of the home-buying and -selling families: canny, self-justifying Witha (subtly and indelibly portrayed by Darya Denisova, who is the standout in a uniformly fine cast of eight) and stony-faced, eerily still Mieze (Rimma Gluzman, in an exceptionally disciplined performance). With a cold fury icing every word she speaks, Mieze lets Witha know exactly what she thinks of her, as Witha and her husband, Wolfgang (David Gamarnik), tighten the vise of “negotiations’’ on the Jewish family, knowing they have no way to prevent being displaced from their home.
As with “A Dead Man’s Diary,’’ the audience at “The Stone’’ is grouped around a rectangular playing space. Scenic designer David R. Gammons outdoes himself in his artful use of that space, which is packed with black earth. Out of one end juts a red velvet chair; out of the other, an upright piano, some of its keys covered in dirt. Also begrimed are the lower extremities of the white costumes worn by the cast (costume design is by Nastya Bugaeva).
The actors often sit or lie on the earth, sometimes with their backs to one another, or move in precisely synchronized, rapid motions, while music composed by Jakov Jakoulov saturates the production with pulsing, hammering chords. Jakoulov’s score is a vital and singular creation. So, clearly, is the Arlekin Players Theatre.
Play by Marius von Mayenburg
Directed by Igor Golyak
Presented by Arlekin Players Theatre. At 368 Hillside Ave., Needham. Through Sept. 29. Tickets $45-$65. 617-942-0022, www.arlekinplayers.com