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KOMISAR'S CURTAIN-RAISERS
by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'Hurrah at Last'
Peter Frechette is the poverty-stricken, angst-ridden writer in "Hurrah at Last." Photo: Joan Marcus.
Contents: June 27, 1999:
(1) Hurrah at Last -- Richard Greenberg's new play is a very funny satirical riff on competition and jealousy set in the New York literary life. This is a world where people will talk about their sex lives without blinking, but nobody will reveal how much money they have. Greenberg is a fount of comic one-liners -- and of incisive social commentary.
(2) Wonderland -- Julia Dahl's smart send-up of egotistical young New York liberals on the political make is at once funny and sobering. It's New Year's day in Sag Harbor and everyone's real agenda is deftly revealed.
(3) Schechner's "Hamlet -- Richard Schechner's "Hamlet" is a giddy modern satire that mixes social commentary with celluloid icons. Imagine the Queen as Marilyn Monroe, Ofelia as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" and the two courtiers who sell out Hamlet as rats with hairy backs and long tails.
(4)The Image Makers -- The image makers are a novelist, an actress and a movie maker who recreate their own lives, full of bloodless passion and hidden secrets, in this play about making a movie directed by Sweden's Ingmar Bergman.
(5)Angelique -- Angelique, a young black slave in Canada, fights a solitary battle against the men and women who finally drive her to a despairing act of defiance. Derek Anson Jones directs a play that draws stark parallels between "then and now."
(6)The Gathering -- probes the moral dilemma of Ronald Reagan's Bitburg visit in a look at German guilt and remorse and at people's willingness to forgive sons for the sins of their fathers and fathers for sins against sons.

"Hurrah at Last"
by Richard Greenberg, directed by David Warren
Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company
Gramercy Theatre 127 East 23 Street
719-1300
Opened June 3, 1999
Closes August 29, 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar, June 9, 1999
If you're a writer living in New York, going to this play is like walking into any cocktail party. You know these people! Richard Greenberg makes a specialty of writing about the trendy literary world and, as with "The Author's Voice," recently mounted by the Drama Dept., this one is so on-the-mark, you wonder if you haven't seen the literary protagonists at some book launching. As directed by David Warren to move in sprightly fashion from one joke to the other, the play is also very, very funny.

This is a world where people will talk about their sex lives without blinking, but nobody will reveal how much money they have. It's a play about personal and professional pseudo friendship, competition, jealousy and egotism. There's a reference to "Plaza Suite," but Greenberg is wittier. He's Neil Simon for intellectuals.

The artistic life is a curious place where people of vastly different economic means inhabit the same social sphere. Laurie Weingard (Peter Frechette), a "writer's writer" in his 40's who has neither critical acclaim nor financial success, lives on the edge and is obsessed with the need to get money. His earth-mother sister Thea (Ileen Getz) and her rich husband Eamon (Kevin O'Rourke) are generous, but somewhat oblivious to his angst.

We see a slice of very New York life. It takes place in Thea and Eamon's $3 million loft (designed by Neil Patel) with a living area (there are no "rooms," just divided space) furnished with pseudo Frank Lloyd Wright chairs, contemporary paintings, a stuffed sofa and double ceiling-high columns. The kitchen has a long blonde hardwood table, professional chrome stove and expensive glass-door cabinets.

Greenberg is a fount of clever one-liners. Thea has invited their parents to a Christmas party. "I couldn't stand for them to be alone at Christmas," she explains. "But Thea," protests Laurie. "They're Jews. We're supposed to go to the movies!" He presses her obligation to their familial heritage: "We shared the womb." She contradicts, "We're not twins." He ripostes, "It was a time share."

But there's substance behind the quips, such as a commentary on professional jealously among friends. Thea and Eamon go on about how successful and talented and kind Laurie's buddy, Oliver, is. "It must be nice when a close friend in your own profession succeeds so spectacularly." Ha! Laurie is seething. He jibes about Oliver's play, "It's 'The Three Sisters!' If it were nearly as good as 'Plaza Suite'..."

You want to punch arrogant Oliver in the mouth as he proclaims, "I'm having the most shattering success. I'm hugely famous. And you're not there to share every second of it! It's so hard for me!" The men's relationship is honed on competition and insincerity. Oliver is willing to literally strip naked to prove his devotion, but he won't tell Laurie how much money he's getting to turn Laurie's novel into a screenplay. "Some things are private." Laurie screams, "I want money!" Oliver assures, "It doesn't buy happiness." "But it upgrades despair," counters the unhappy writer.

Literary pretentiousness also gets its just deserts, including a reference to Harold Bloom's contention that writers are locked in a fight to the death with their forbears. Or, when Laurie declaims, "I think I'm getting well, I think I'm getting well, I think I'm getting well,' and then comments, "It's like 'At The Hospital with Gertrude Stein'."

There are enough Jewish jokes to revive the Borscht Belt -- most of them detonated by the siblings' nasty mother, Reva. She comes in complaining, in harsh nasal tones, about finding a parking place. "One thing Gentiles know how to do is tie up traffic!" she announces in cadences of Long Island. (Various New York accents are sprinkled around liberally, to comic effect.)

There's also satire about family. The father (Larry Keith) hunkers in the corner and every so often offers to the air, "So, what, you need some money?" At the hospital where Laure's been taken for some unknown illness, dad tells him, "I'm here night and day. Are you going to appreciate this?" He finally admits that he considers children "the abyss." And, "Also your mother was no pleasure, aside from the sex." Dad mostly wanted to be left alone.

Greenberg's women are either shrill nags or baby machines. Oliver's Italian wife, has an infant and a pregnancy at Christmas, two babies and another pregnancy at Easter. Since initially she speaks no English, we understand what Oliver sees in her. (Another proof of his shallowness.) Her fecundity aggravates Thea, who is going to a fertility clinic in attempts to conceive a child.

Frechette dominates the show as the energetic, neurotic, perpetually struggling writer with a hangdog look. Ileen Getz brings a warm, effusive spirit to the well-meaning sister. The rest of the cast is also excellent, including Paul Michael Valley as the smarmy Oliver, Dori Brenner as the mom from hell, Larry Keith as the wallpaper dad, and Judith Blazer as Oliver's wife and the hospital nurse who even gets to sing a selection from "24 Italian Songs and Others."

"Wonderland"
Written and directed by Julia Dahl
Produced by the American Place Theatre
111 West 46 Street
239-6200
Opened June 14, 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar, June 14, 1999
Julia Dahl's smart send-up of egotistical young New York liberals on the political make is at once funny and sobering. These people exist, of course, in a world not entirely of their own making. Still, the desire for status and the money consciousness that define them is not shared by everyone. Though the laid back figure who is presented as the polar opposite of their egotism is not particularly attractive either. He's just spaced out and not very bright. The only sympathetic figure is the Wall Street risk manager who is a generation older and who, you learn, dwells not so far from hypocrisy himself.

Edgar (Paul Fitzgerald), his fiancee Josephine (Kate Jennings Grant), his sister Frances (Christine Marie Burke), and their friend Dennis (James Patrick Stuart) are young, beautiful and privileged. Edgar works at a progressive think tank and is about to announce as a Democratic candidate for Congress from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Josephine is managing Edgar's campaign. Dennis works in the Clinton White House. In this upscale group, only poor Frances is distraught and unable to cope. She has spent the last year as a waitress in Venice, California, living with Charlie (Brad Beyer), who surfs and snowboards and works as a circus clown at children's parties. They've all gathered New Year's day at in Sag Harbor, at the home of the father of Edgar and Frances.

Beowulf Boritt 's attractive open set provides just the right feeling of a Hamptons cottage, with a couch, wicker furniture, and fireplace on one side and a round hardwood table and chairs, refrigerator, and counter with TV set on the other. Beyond the rooms, we can see weathered shingle siding, dune grass and a bare tree.

These are the kind of liberals who do better at relating to the world than to individual human beings. When Edgar expresses uncertainty about making the congressional race, aggressive Josephine pushes him, mouthing set speeches about how he's doing it for the people. Judging from how she squeals when Dennis gets a phone call from the White House, the real pull of politics is getting near power. Dennis, who sends Christmas gifts ornaments from the White House historical society, admits he's "in it for the fantasy. Anything you do short of nursing the sick in Calcutta is bullshit." They all seem dreary and shallow.

Henry (Henry Strozier), the father of Edgar and Frances, is a former official of the Republican National Committee. He disparages "squeaky liberal socialists living on Central Park West," and these examples feed his cynicism.

There's a wonderful satire of status connoisseurs, which Dahl must have copied from real life. Edgar, Dennis and Josephine are having a drink at the expensive, trendy American Hotel, and the men make a fuss about cigars. Dennis explains that he collects the bands and glues them into a book along with notes about where and with whom he smoked them.

Dahl suggests something might be wrong with all this by making Edgar uncomfortable with his ambition. He is perturbed by the notion of "waltzing through the liberal bourgeoisie" and thinks he might better be an honest hack as a Wall Streeter or movie maker. He wonders, "What if I'm not doing it to serve the people. What if it's just about ego? I feel like a fraud." But Dahl never probes Edgar's personality to see if maybe he really is devoted to the liberal causes he espouses. Is she so cynical that she believes that nobody can care about anything but power and money? The real frauds are never so self-questioning.

The "fraud" is more likely Dennis, who seems to order his life according to what looks good. He has decided that since all his fraternity brothers have gotten married, it's that time for him, and Frances would be a good choice. It's a part of the plot that's hard to believe -- unless he's interested in her family money or her sexuality. (Fran says, "We don't have great sex. We've eroticized our lack of intimacy.") Those attributes apart, the flaky Fran is hardly the woman for a man on the rise. The most believable part of their courtship occurs when Dennis's beeper goes off and he takes a White House call that's more important than his in-progress marriage proposal.

The dramatic question Dahl poses is how these people, with their liberal and conservative ideologies, will deal with Frances, the distressed human being who confronts them in the flesh. Their responses are not very different. They see her not as someone with psychological problems, but as one who's opted out, who's not a striver like they are. Dad, though he has an old-fashioned sense of human relations, is preoccupied and pretty unable to communicate with his daughter. Only spaced out, hollow-eyed Charlie seems to understand her, but he is too much of a jerk to grasp that she doesn't like their menage a trois. Using the metaphor of his sports, she accuses him of riding on life: "You skim the surface." So, where's the decent human being?

Sometimes the episodes are a bit choppy. And Fran's crisis is thrown up so quickly, you feel unprepared for it. But this treats with real personal and moral questions with an agile irony, even including a small TV on the kitchen counter which at a crucial time shows, "It's Wonderful Life," followed by one of those ads where a loudmouthed huckster trolls for suckers by touting "how much money you can make."

"Hamlet"
by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Schechner
Produced by East Coast Artists
The Performing Garage, 33 Wooster Street at Grand
966-3651
Opened June 4, 1999
Closed
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar June 12, 1999
This wonderfully clever, inventive "Hamlet" is not for Shakespeare purists. Richard Schechner, pulling on stores of imagination that seem inexhaustible, turns the dark tragedy into an absurdist comedy with underlying keen social commentary. He is helped by an excellent cast totally in synch with his ideas.

Imagine Queen Gertred, played deliciously by Marissa Copeland as Marilyn Monroe, blonde, heavy-lidded, pouty, with a wiggle and a dip in the knees. Her costumes (by Louisa Thompson) are out of a fashion magazine -- pink gown with elbow-length black lace gloves and black high-heeled sandals or chic white suit.

(The name spellings and most of the text are from First Quarto, not the more common First Folio.)

Gertred's new husband Claudius is smoothly turned by Gerry Bamman into a suave manipulator in a gray suit and yellow tie and a child's cut-out crown on his bald pate.

Ofelia (Paula Cole) is Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," with red patent pumps, a short blue and white gingham pinafore, red hair tied in bow, and circles of pink rouge on her cheeks.

Her father Polonius (Omar Shapli) dresses in gray pinstripes and gold vest, like English gentleman.

George Hannah, who is black, creates Hamlet as an alienated street person, wearing a black down jacket and torn, paint-splattered jeans. Almost as an inside joke, Shakespeare's lines take on new meaning. When the king asks, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" Hamlet replies, "Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun." And Gertred enjoins, "Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off."

Schechner is openly looking for new socially relevant meanings in the text. The theme is that "the time is out of joint, " and he means the present, not medieval Denmark.

Ofelia, for example is flirtatious giggly teenager, but when she sits on her father's knee, their body language makes you suddenly think of a Lolita. Schechner thinks there's something going on between them.

Hamlet as the threatened outsider shifts to a Jamaican accent, a Rasta wig, and green fishnet tank top with bright red jogging pants.

And -- no unnecessary subtlety here -- Rossencraft (Michele Minnick) and Guilderstone (Debora Cahn), who betrayed Hamlet, are rats with black suits, ruffled shirts, top hat and bowler, white faces, and matted rat backs and long pink tales. When they make their deal with the king, they are rewarded with candy bars, which they gnaw. They also speak a lot in unison.

Voltemar (Lars Hanson), an ambassador with fez and black umbrella, practices his message before seeing the king, then reads it so fast you can't understand him. Diplomatic gobbledygook.

Polonius send his daughter Ofelia to go to Hamlet and get assurances of his love. Schechner sees him as sending her to carry out a seduction. When the father helps the daughter off with a jacket, she turns and under a sheer blouse reveals bare breasts. What ensues is literally a dance, Ofelia reminding Hamlet of his love, and he asserting, "I never loved you." Now her tacky undress infuses Hamlet's his lines that "the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof."

It is thus not without cause that Hamlet accuses, "God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another and that he condemns Ofelia for her "wantonness." His "Get thee to a nunnery" is not irrational but a response to her licentiousness. It's not Hamlet but the time that's out of joint.

When Claudius rationalizes his crimes, his black tie hanging open on his dress shirt, you can imagine some executive back from dinner and vaguely bothered at some sleazy business deal he's just effected. Meanwhile, his decadent wife pops pills and swills liquor from a flask.

Schechner also has fun satirizing over-the-top acting. When Hamlet accuses her, Gertred cries like an hysteric. The king's ghost cries "murder most foul" in a tone more histrionic than noble.

Paula Cole's mad scene is quite extraordinary. Hers is no elegant, ethereal, stylized madness. Under her father's bloody bathrobe, her gingham shirt is pulled up like a halter, showing the bottom of a panty girdle; a nylon stocking covers her hair. This is repellant bag lady madness as one might find in an asylum or on the street.

Other scenes are pure slapstick. The duel between Hamlet and Laertes is refereed by a fellow blowing a whistle and dressed in black and white striped shirt and trunks.

Daniel ZS. Jagendorf's set includes a movable rectangular box stage framed in wood like garden trellis. Instead of an arras to hide Polonius in Gertred's boudoir, there's a rod hung with elegant clothes in plastic cleaners bags. The mood is effectively set with original music by Erol Tamerman and Liz Claire, played on violins, accordion, drum, trumpet, and gong.

The time may be out of joint, but Richard Schechner isn't.

"The Image Makers"
by Per Olov Enquist, directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Brooklyn Academy of Music
Majestic Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
718-636-4100
Opened June 2, 1999
Closed
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar June 2, 1999
The image makers of Per Olov Enquist's play created images of their own lives as well as those depicted in their novels and films. That is the conceit of this imagined interaction among four real Swedish artists who meet to screen the rushes of a silent film made from the novel one has written. The play is directed by Ingmar Bergman, a master at deconstructing the truth and lies that are the fabric of lives and of prospecting for verities in life and art. The play, performed in Swedish by the excellent actors of the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden, with simultaneous translation, is intriguing, if cold and bloodless even when it is about passion. Sometimes it seems like a Swedish version of "Art."

The characters in what Enquist calls "a chamber play" are a novelist, an actress, a director and a cinematographer. Selma Lagerlof (Anita Bjork), the novelist, is elderly, calm, sad, and tightly controlled, with a sense of her own presence, though also vulnerable. She is stolid, even hefty, and wears her hair in a bun, as if to tightly ward off intrusions of sexuality.

Tora Teje (Elin Klinga) is an erratic, self-absorbed young actress who flies off the handle at the least pretext and seems almost like a child who is unable or unwilling to control her emotions. Her hair hangs loose three feet down her back in the first act, then becomes a long braid in the second. She appears in tight black pants, wine jacket, turtleneck and matching high-heeled boots -- odd for the 1920's -- then, with the braid, shifts to a demure, long-sleeved, almost little-girl dress.

Viktor Sjostrom (Lennart Hjulstrom) the director is a brusque, self-absorbed artist wedded to his film. Twice Tora's age, he is besotted with the actress but also cognizant that his wife Edith gives him the emotional support that flighty Tora can't manage.

Julius (Carl-Magnus Dellow) the cinematographer, in knickers, vest, sweater and work smock, fantasizes about Tora and during the action gets drunker and drunker.

Bergman, who knew the real Sjorstrom and Tora, directs the characters as if they were larger than life parodies. And curiously, sometimes they seem like parodies of characters in Bergman's own films.

It is 1921, the golden age of Swedish cinema. Viktor Sjostrom, regarded with Bergman as one of country's two great directors, is making a silent movie, "The Phantom Carriage," based on "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness," by venerable Nobel-prize winning author Selma Lagerlof.

The film is deals with a New Year's Eve myth about the Coachman of Death, the last man to die on New Year's Eve, who is responsible for collecting the souls of the dead; it's also about the evils of drink. Enquist said in a talk before the play that Bergman sees the film every July 15th. It uses double exposure to show ghosts -- very ethereal and Bergmanesque. The underlying twist is that Lagerlof's novel, supposedly about her father, hid the fact that he was an alcoholic who almost destroyed her till she ran away. He becomes her ghost through life, causing her never-ending guilt for abandoning him.

A key element of the play is the different life philosophies of Selma and Tora. That works into central, repeating themes. There is the dependence on alcohol. Selma carries around a bottle of sherry; she says it doesn't matter if it's sweet as long as it has a kick. The cinematographer takes nips from his flask during the performance. And it turns out that Viktor's father was also an alcoholic who made his childhood hell. Only Tora, the glamorous, sensual young actress, doesn't drink. Instead of falling into a comfortable, soothing half-stupor, she tells in-your-face truths and demands that life and those around her satisfy her every whim.

There is the conflict between lies and truth. Tora charges Selma with being phony, of leaving something out of her book, of being too cowardly to tell what's making her furious. F irst accusing Tora of being provocative, Selma admits "I prefer sincerity to the usual flattery."

And the conflict between duty to others and personal survival. "I got up on my feet and limped away from him, and that's what I've been doing these last 40 years," says Selma. But then she tells Tora, "It's better to get angry than run away."

That segues into the uses of art. You don't write of things as they are but as you wish them to be. Selma has pledged her father's resurrection through her art. She would become a writer and tell the family story as it should have been. Then, ironically, "Everyone would read it and I would get rich." Is she still lying about her motives?

Enquist has thrown in some aphorisms about art and theater that sound almost like put-ons of pseudo intellectualism. Selma says, "If a journalist asks why you really wrote the book, then he hasn't read it." And she insists, "A writer has an inner core he can't divulge. The writer's innermost secret must be protected." When a director makes a movie out of a novel, whose is it? Is he just "tinkering" with it? Selma asks, "Why must you act?" and Tora responds, "I'm obsessed." Bergman directs their interchanges in a cool intellectual way as if it were one of those conversations at Swedish dinners where at long tables people talk about culture.

And there's the casting couch. Tora complains that she didn't get the lead in the film because Sjostrom's wife blocked it. The way to success, she says, is to jump into bed with producer or director. She complains the theater is full of dirty old men who pull you into dressing rooms. Yet, when Selma asks where she was expecting to spend the night, she replies, "With Viktor." Flirtatious Tora complains about men seducing her, but it looks like the other way around.

Which takes us to love -- or sexual relationships. The conflict between the seductive Tora and the macho Viktor is trite and predictable. He calls her gifted, stupid, beautiful, deadly. He accuses her of being coarse and unreasonable, then tells her, "I'm scared of you." He fears he'll lose his self-respect. He says, "Every time you enter a room, chaos follows." Tora, who is also married, is humiliated by his contempt for her.

But you don't sympathize very much with either of them. She is an egotistical child woman, but Viktor seems to want either a child or a mother. When Tora asks what Edith has that she doesn't, he replies, "She makes me feel calm and warm as if she swaddles me." Then, almost petulantly acting like a child himself, he pouts, "I'm going to make a film about you, and I promise that you won't be in it."

Over-dramatically, she hugs him. You don't believe either of these self-absorbed people cares a bit about the other. Is this all some kind of parody? Self-parody? Some of the language, including Tora's swearing is very modern; Enquist explains that modern speech is the only kind he can write. It makes the play seem to be about today, and not the past at all. That, of course, is probably also Bergman's intention.

"Angelique"
by Lorena Gale, directed by Derek Anson Jones
Produced by MCC Theater, 120 West 28 Street
727-7765 Opened June 17, 1999
Closes July 10, 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar June 16, 1999
This powerful intermingling of the 1700's and the present tells the story of Angelique, a black slave in Montreal, and her struggle against subjugation -- by her white masters and also by the black man and the white indentured servant who would use her. She must also deal with the antagonism of women jealous of the men's attentions to her. Angelique was a woman alone, with no allies.

Written by Canadian Lorena Gale, the play is inspired by the true story of young woman from an island off Portugal who'd been kidnapped to Canada, ran away, and was accused of setting a fire which engulfed the house of her owner and surrounding buildings. She was captured, tortured and hanged in 1734 at the age of 29.

To point out the continuation of the attitudes promoted women's subjection, Gale moves fluidly between the 18th century and the present, "then and now," mixing old and modern dress, using vernacular speech, and referring to current artifacts such as vacuum cleaners. When they meet, the businessman-slave owner Francois wears a split coat and breeches while Angelique is dressed in a modern maid's dress and apron.

Francois (Jonathan Walker), who made his money in iron, says in contemporary tones, "You know what it's like to be flush, to say 'I want that. I reach out and take it.' " That collides with the na´ve fantasy of Angelique (Lisa Gay Hamilton) that she'll be treated with love and understanding, that "Life will be different, with holidays and laughter and private moments. This time will be different."

Every aspect of her life etches the woman's plight. We see Angelique's purchase by the Francois, his sexual abuse of her, the jealousy of his wife Therese (Pamela Nyberg), the attempt to "mate" Angelique with another slave, Cesar (Earl Baker, Jr.), and her growing attachment to Claude (Jason Weinberg), an indentured servant.

There is a sympathy for the women, even for the slave-owner's wife, who is devastated by her husband's liaison with Angelique. And for the Indian woman Manon (Angel Desai) who loves the black slave who's been assigned to Angelique for procreation. Even when Therese is a widow, her husband's business partner, Ignace (Jonathan Fried) tries to cheat her out of her share of the ironworks.

The best thing about the play is Lisa Gay Hamilton, with a riveting theatrical presence and graceful movement, a glint in her eyes, and a spunky life force. She is like a kaleidoscope as she twist into ever-changing shapes in a magnetic bird dance performed to the beat of African drum sounds.

Director Derek Anson Jones intelligently mixes realistic events and symbolism: a tug of war with a real rope represent the power struggle between Therese and Ignace over the iron works. Sometimes, however, episodes are jarring, their connections choppy. And the text is not always on target. Angelique's thoughts, expressed as poetic monologues, are sometimes sorrowful and furious, and other times too dense to penetrate.

"The Gathering"
by Arje Shaw, directed by Rebecca Taylor
Produced by the Jewish Repertory Theatre, 316 East 91 Street
212-831-2000
Opened June 10, 1999
Closes July 18 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar June 15 1999
In a political career that seemed to invite controversy about moral issues, Ronald Reagan provoked truly serious outrage in 1985 when he accepted German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's invitation to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the World War II armistice with a visit to the cemetery at Bitburg, where among the Germans buried were 47 SS men. (Reagan also visited a concentration camp.)

The U.S. attitude to the Nazis had already been called into question when, after the Cold War began in the 1950's, Washington dropped the German denazification program. Kohl himself owed his rise to power as leader of the Christian Democrats in the early 1970's to the backing of former Nazi industrialists, especially the Flick Group. Friedrich Flick, who made donations to Hitler's SS, was sentenced to seven years in prison for abusing slave laborers from Dachau, and then in 1950 was released by John McCloy, the U.S. High Commissioner.

So there's a lot of context to this play, about Kohl and the Nazis and the Americans. But it's also about general moral principles which are sometimes in conflict -- standing up for what you believe even when it's uncomfortable, expressing remorse and also exhibiting forgiveness. On a personal level, it's about fathers and sons accepting each other's experiences, outlooks and values.

Gabe Stern (Theodore Bikel), a survivor of Dachau, is now about 70. He's a sculptor, doing a head of Muhammad Ali, whom he admires as a conscientious objector against the war in Vietnam -- because he believed in something. His son Stuart (Robert Fass) is a hyper, obsessed, rising political careerist who works for Reagan's chief speech writer, Patrick Buchanan. (Buchanan in real life has been accused of anti-Semitism.) Stuart's wife Diane (Susan Warrick Hasho) is a convert to Judaism who keeps the Sabbath and raises Michael (Jesse Adam Eisenberg), their bright, self-aware son who's just about to have his Bar Mitzvah.

The family is thrown into turmoil when Stuart announces that he's going to Bitburg on the Reagan visit. Gabe is furious. Now there's a conflict over morality and responsibility. Stuart insists he doesn't set policy; he doesn't think, he writes. He admits that, "Reagan is paying off a political debt to Kohl. Our nuclear missiles are in his country, there's a political election at stake." But he also argues that they have to "move on."

Gabe drags Michael off to Bitburg to make a moral stand there. But playwright Shaw wants people to think about the complexity of the moral issue. Gabe's reaction seems more emotional than logical when a young German soldier shows up at the cemetery and insists, "The sins of my fathers are not my sins, they are only my responsibility." Maybe "moving on" is more than a convenient political response.

There are a lot of Jewish jokes and schmaltzy bits about chicken soup and kreplach. Gabe's anger and darkness are etched in an old joke. He declares that Buchanan had a relative who died in the camps. "Yeah?" says Stuart, and Gabe replies, "He fell off the tower."

Under Rebecca Taylor's heart-tugging direction, there's not much subtlety, but the interchanges are sometimes gripping, and more than a few in the audience wiped away tears.

Bikel is moving and powerful as the angry, occasionally obnoxious Gabe who is given to diatribes, such as describing the two heads of state as "the Putz and the Nazi." Jesse Adam Eisenberg is charming and disarming as Michael, and Fass and Hasho are persuasive as his parents. Robert Joel Schwartz's minimal set, especially the cemetery with three large stone crosses, heightens the symbolism of the drama. [Komisar]

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