Thursday, December 3, 2009

East of Berlin

Hannah Moscovitch's much-hyped new play is currently on at MTC Warehouse and last night I ventured out with two hard-core theatre goers to see what the fuss was about. My companions loved it as did much of the audience but I felt rather lukewarm about yet another post-WW II drama.

It's a well-constructed three-hander about the son of a Nazi death camp doctor raised in blissful ignorance in Paraguay and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who grew up in New York. Set in the mid-sixties its a love triangle with a dark twist.

Rudi is fed the poisoned fruit of truth about his past by Hermann with whom he has a complex and sexually charged friendship. Overwhelmed, Rudi flees Paraguay for Germany to study medicine and explore his family's dark roots. Brendan Gall, all twitchy neurosis off the start, speeds through the text at a gallop. It's a credible performance but the break-neck pace left me with little time to empathize with him and left his character with little time to make any discoveries.

Diana Donnelly does some nice work and is deft with the darker comedic aspects of her role, but I didn't really see the emotional evolution of her relationship with Rudi.

The stand-out of the show is Paul Dunn in the role of Rudi's friend Hermann. It's a brilliant performance full of flashes of the emotional underpinnings beneath his character's wit and revelations. I was left feeling far more for Hermann than for the suffering Rudi.

The set by Camillia Koo is a marvel of suggestion, the rows of charred tomes and vaguely threatening objects suggesting a dark and hidden history. The lighting and sound were both used rather in the manner of B movies, telegraphing emotions the audience should have been left to feel from the text and the performances. The score was particularly overwrought.

I don't know if the brusque pacing was the director's decision or if the actors were just worried about holding our attention for 90 uninterrupted minutes. More time for discoveries would have gone a long way towards making this well-worn territory connect better emotionally with the audience.

Ah, Jews and Germans after WWII: I saw the NIGHT PORTER a long time ago which dealt with similar subject matter in a much more gripping and subversive fashion. It's not that you can't write about the past but rather that this play felt like it had been written in the past. Perhaps that's why the mostly grey haired audience connected so well with the material. If the play had been written in the late 60s, it would have been novel but it's fifty years later. I infinitely preferred SCORCHED: a truly brilliant and contemporary take on war and its aftermath.

Moscovitch has some half-dozen commissions from various theatres across the country for new work. I'd like to see what she does with a less shop-worn subject.

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