Front Row Center – October 2019

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Address Unknown

By Katherine Kressman Taylor
Directed by Bernadette Jones and Jayme Littlejohn

front row

 

This play, described as a staged reading, marks the opening of a new location for theater in this town. “Bravo!” has moved to Hidalgo 441 in Riberas, and the place is spacious and welcoming. Entertaining and thought-provoking material is planned for future productions.

Address Unknown is a gripping play. Originally it was a short story written as a series of letters between “Max” who is a Jewish art dealer, living in San Francisco, and “Martin,” his gentile business partner who has returned to Germany in 1932. Martin writes about the wonderful Third Reich and its “gentle leader” Hitler. He admits that there is some “Jew trouble” but says that something bigger is happening.

Max is concerned, and continues to write even though his own sister Griselle, an actress in Berlin, has gone missing. He begs Martin to look after Griselle if she shows up. On the other hand, Martin has by now joined the Nazi Party, and he asks Max to stop writing. His letters will be intercepted and Martin would lose his official position and he and his family could be in danger.

The tension ratchets up as Griselle comes to Martin’s house for sanctuary. He fails to protect her and she is arrested because she is a Jewess who has dared to criticize the regime. Max is devastated when he learns what has happened, and then he plans a subtle revenge. His letters about various art dealings and purchases appear to be written in a complicated code. Martin will come under suspicion and eventually will be arrested as a spy with Jewish contacts in the United States.

We were fortunate to have two excellent actors playing Max and Martin. Roger Larson was entirely believable as “Max” and his suffering as he learns of Griselle’s arrest and probable death is an extraordinary moment. Ken Yakiwchuk, as “Martin” has a more difficult and less sympathetic part, and he handles it well. It’s a strange acting situation, as their only contact is by mail, and the audience has to read between the lines.

In some ways I felt that the communication was too bland – the level of tension has to increase over the course of the play. It is interesting to note that the idea for the story came from a news item about American students in Germany writing home with the truth about the Nazi atrocities. Fraternity brothers began to send letters making fun of Hitler, and the visiting students wrote back, “Stop it. We’re in danger. These people don’t fool around. You could murder someone by writing letters to him.”

I have sometimes wondered how it is possible that such an evil regime could come to power in a civilized and well-educated country like Germany. But perhaps it is not so strange – scapegoating and hatred of “the other” is easily aroused. Thanks to “Bravo!” for putting on such an interesting play and best wishes for the future.

 

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