Ottawa, ON, Mar 27, 2012 — East of Berlin is running at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa through April 8. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.
EAST OF BERLIN by Hannah Moscovitch currently running at GCTC examines the problem of dealing with both inherited guilt and selective memory. Rudi, the main character, discovers at age 17 that his father was one of the Nazi doctors at Auschwitz. He falls in love with Sarah, whose mother died in Auschwitz. The third character is the homosexual Hermann, Rudi’s best friend from their childhood in Paraguay where they grew up.
This is an early play of Miss Moscovitch, and it shows. It’s fairly predictable, including the ending. The structure is basically a series of monologues for Rudi, as he explains his memories and attempts to justify his choices. The monologues are interspersed with scenes with Hermann, later with Sarah and penultimately with both. The problem is that Rudi is at bottom an unpleasant and self-serving character who indulges in a few too many nudge-nudge wink-wink holocaust jokes with the audience. Perhaps one or two might work, but the total effect is to kill any sympathy for this initially cheeky character. We just don’t care.
The technical production is very good. Ivo Valentik’s wonderfully ramshackle metallic set with its spiral staircase and maze of support poles has the feel of a spider web. It’s furnished with wooden storage boxes and up left a white door left ajar, presumably leading to Rudi’s father’s office.
Martin Conboy’s terrific lighting, primarily bars of light and shadow, produce a cage effect for Rudi’s memories. The four bare bulbs add subliminal accents. Genevieve Couture’s costumes are fine, especially Sarah’s dress and boots. The music and sound by Jean-Michel Ouimet are particularly effective and I loved the echoes in the final scene.
As Sarah, Catherine Boutin does a nice job and her love scene with Rudi works well. Although stymied by the two-dimensional writing, Simon Bradshaw’s Rudi comes alive in this scene. The early scene where he and Hermann are overtaken by a laughing jag is also very believable. As Hermann, Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard gives a strong and three-dimensional performance, in spite of being used by the playwright as a sort of deus ex machina.
Joel Beddows has done a solid job of staging and directing the play. Keeping Sarah and Hermann onstage in the shadows throughout until needed is a good choice, as it sets up the feeling of a memory play. He has also made good choices in the staging of the sex scenes. A couple of questions though, why is the rag doll so prominent and why is Auschwitz consistently mispronounced as “Awe – switch”?
EAST OF BERLIN seems to come to no clear conclusion about either selective memory or this kind of inherited guilt. Although I admire the playwright’s attempt at this difficult subject, for me it doesn’t succeed. Because of the way the main character is written, we neither empathize nor sympathize with Rudi and his story leaves us unmoved.
This is a production that seems to demand a split rating. On a scale of one to five the script of EAST OF BERLIN gets two while the GCTC production of EAST OF BERLIN gets four and a half for an average of three and a quarter solar panels. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.