Monday, November 14, 2011

'East of Berlin' Poses Interesting Questions -- Theater Review

Theater Review

East of Berlin
The Russian Play
by Hannah Moscovitch
Signal Ensemble Theater
Thru December 18
@@@@ - East of Berlin
@@1/2 - The Russian Play

"What's the right thing to do?"

Though I don't know that there was really much gray area in the case of Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary or others involved in the Penn State cover-up, you can see how the answer isn't always so cut & dried.

Say you learned that your father, who in your lifetime has always been upstanding, was once a very bad man. Are you morally obliged to report his whereabouts to the authorities so that he could be held accountable for past indiscretions?

And even if you know you should, could you? And would you? Especially if doing so would essentially ruin your own life?

Hannah Moscovitch's gripping play, East of Berlin, takes awhile to its central dilemma, but once it does, it's thoroughly riveting.

Without giving too much away, Rudi has grown up in Paraguay. In his teens, he learns that his dad was a Nazi SS doctor, a war criminal. He doesn't feel compelled to do anything about it until long after he himself has moved to Germany and falls in love with a Jewish girl, Sarah, who takes him to visit Aushwitz, where her mom had been held as a concentration camp prisoner.

Even then, Rudi isn't completely forthright with Sarah nor sure of what actions he will take. And I'm not sure I agree with the action Moscovitch has him take, but that doesn't make the play any less powerful or thought-provoking. It didn't quite captivate me all the way through, but by the end it was certainly one of the better new works I've seen this year.

Which made the Signal Ensemble's choice to follow it with The Russian Play, a shorter, more frivolous and not nearly as good play by Moscovitch, a bit puzzling. East of Berlin was so intense that leaving the theater to think and/or talk about it would have been preferable to spending another 30 minutes taking in The Russian Play. It was a bit of fun seeing the excellent trio of actors from the first play, Billy Fenderson, Melanie Keller and Tom McGrath, take on something quite different. But my head wasn't ready to give it much attention and it actually diminished the experience of having been so engaged in East of Berlin.

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