This review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Can decomposing dead Jews find peace in a Jewish cemetery on the Rhein, today, in 1983, fifty years after the President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany? Jubilee! Perhaps they are doomed to remember what they'd rather forget. But if they'd rather forget the past, why are they trapped here as ghosts in this "8th circle of hell" still able to see acts of vandalism and hear vile anti-Semitic jokes told mostly by Juergen, the nephew of Helmut, a homosexual resident of the cemetery who got himself circumcised to show solidarity with the many Jewish victims of Juergen's pranks. Juergen (David Knowle), inspired by stories told to him by his father, who served in the SS, climbs over the wall of the cemetery, urinates on graves, and defaces them with slogans and swastikas. Arnold (G.W. Reed) seems particularly engaged and says to Juergen, "Jew-dog with a hyphen, boy," and "The cross is also wrong. Hook's missing on the top left side." Arnold tells Helmut (Derrick Peterson) his nephew's Neo-Nazi activism is "kidstuff," performed by "a poor prankster," "a lone wolf, who can't hurt you anymore." But when Helmut asks Arnold, "Are you sure?" he responds, "No."
Arnold seems compelled to answer Juergen's prank telephone calls. His wife Lotte (Cordis Heard) tells him to ignore them but he doesn't. He allows himself to hear Juergen tell him, "Store up on Jews, it's going to be a long winter."; "The skin of a kike: a lampshade we like."; and "Fight cancer, smoke Jews." Eventually, Arnold is shot at close range, which is how he ends up in the cemetery. What really hurt, however, is Juergen reminding him of Mitzi's suicide. Mitzi (Andrea Lynn Green) was Arnold's wife Lotte's late sister's only daughter. She has a spastic tick ("she twitches a lot") that could not be cured at the Rehabilitation Center For The Hopelessly Handicapped, burnt to the ground, as "a matter of euthanastic taste." Mitzi sings and loves children so much she gets a hysterical pregnancy once a year. While in school, Mitzi fell in love with a Neo-Nazi who wrote her a letter in which he said, "How come they forgot to gas you?" Feeling "one must not leave letters unanswered," Spastic Mitzi "Finishes her yogurt. Washes the spoon and dries it. Lights the oven. Puts her head in. Dies." Wumpf (Robert Eigen), a gravedigger who considers himself to be a landscape artist, never digs a hole unless he knows for whom the hole is being dug. He observes "the goddamn Jews aren't finicky (regarding who gets buried in the consecrated ground of a Jewish cemetery) - "suicide, cripples, abortions, terrorists, junkies, whores, pimps, all kinds of sinners are herewith welcome, provided the mother wasn't a shikse." Helmut, the new, converted, circumcised Jew, who could not cure himself of his homosexual deviance, gets into the cemetery by hanging himself, and Otto (Jeff Burchfield), his lover, also commits suicide by taking some sleeping pills before drowning himself in the tub. In fact, many of those residing in this Jewish cemetery died in ways similar to how other Jews died during Hitler's reign - by direct violence, by being shoved in an oven, drowned or by being encouraged to take their own lives - all without any help from their neighbors and friends.
When we ignore an anti-Semitic joke, are we opening the door to a new Holocaust? George Tabori, the playwright seems to think so. If you ignore small evils or dismiss them as the acts of a prankster or lone wolf, you fail to address the origins of the hate and allow it to continue unaddressed. One could argue you are contributing to evil if you laugh at jokes making fun of an ethnic, cultural or religious group. I don't necessarily agree but this seems to be Tabori's viewpoint. In Jubilee, Lotte asks Otto to tell her a few jokes. He says, "Got a Jew for a friend, you don't need an enemy."; "Difference between Turk and Jew? Both would sell their sister, but the Turk at least delivers."; and "How do you get twenty Jews into a VW? 3 in front, 3 in back, the rest in the ashtrays." When Lotte questions whether the jokes are funny, Otto responds, "No, that's not funny, Frau Stern, that's an invitation to the gas chambers."
The worst scene in this play is a melodramatic homage to the deaths of a number of children who were killed to cover up some experiments the Nazis were conducting on them. Tabori tries to tug on our heart strings to make us care just a little too much about each of these children. I personally couldn't bite especially since thousands of children die every day, especially in Syria, and each of their little lives is never going to be memorialized in a similar manner. Worse yet, people still don't care today just as they didn't care then when atrocities were happening during World War II. The most impressive scene in Jubilee involves Lotte as a woman who is slowly drowning in a telephone booth smack-dab in the middle of a parade. The door is stuck but no one marching in the parade notices her or hears her cries for help. She calls friends but no one believes the situation is as grave as she is describing while others just refuse to become involved. While the entire cast does a fine job in all their respective roles, Cordis Heard is the star of this production for her extremely believable portrayal of The Woman In The Booth. This is a metaphor for the rise of German nationalism in the late 1980s just prior to the reunification of East and West Germany. Stuck in that telephone booth at the dome, unable to get anyone to help her or even to believe her, Lotte finally tells her friend Ana, "I am dying. - No, it got to be, it's getting too difficult, the door is stuck, the crowd comes and goes...Too difficult...I would have liked to say adieu to you, but as you know, the water is rising, it is starting all over again."
If the slogan, "Never Again!" is to mean something, then Jews must stop viewing themselves as helpless victims crying out to others for assistance. Such pitiful behavior is more likely to cause more bullies to beat down on them than to inspire crusaders to come to their aid. You know the old joke about how no one is frightened if they are being followed by a group of young Jews on the street. While that reflects the positive stereotype of Jews not being dangerous or criminal in nature, it also suggests that Jews are passive and may not fight back if attacked. That must change. Armed Jews with knowledge of self-defense techniques must protect Jewish landmarks, cemeteries, and communities. When you say "Never Again!", you must be prepared to defend Jewish communities in Muslim countries and in Western Democracies as well. The funniest line in Jubilee is in the scene that ends the play. Arnold's father died at Auschwitz and Arnold reports that only last week, he read in the papers that, "in Auschwitz, they baked bread, not fathers." Arnold prays every night for this story to have been true. Eventually, the Ghost of Arnold's father (Robert Eigen) appears, engages in small talk and finally says, "Okay, that's enough. Here is a gift for you." He gives Arnold a loaf of bread and walks off while Arnold breaks a piece off the bread for everyone to eat. Someone says it "tastes funny," to which Arnold responds, "Well, we are a funny people."
Jubilee is not written in a chronological manner and many of the characters play multiple roles. It is hard to follow and Tabori repeats the Volkswagen ashtray joke too many times for it not to get annoying. Perhaps the victims are in hell and still conscious because they should have done more while they were alive to combat the evil that was rising around them. But then again, Tabori belittles the Neo-Nazis of the 1980s as being nothing but imitations of the real thing. Thugs who just enjoy violence as opposed to principled ideologues. The whole situation is very complicated and Jubilee will give you much to think about for days and weeks after you have seen it.