Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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
Reviewed 5/11/17

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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck 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
Reviewed 5/11/17

George Tabori's Jubilee is a scathing rebuke directed toward any resurgence or sympathy in the types of behavior that Tabori witnessed first-hand in the lead up to World War II. Written originally in German in 1983, three years after Tabori returned, the playwright may have either seen familiar behavior or meant to describe what World War II was like. Within the 70s and 80s, German nationalism suffered from "a feeling of hopelessness" which later resulted in the 1989-91 social movement, "Die Winde," that reunited Germany under a democratic parliamentary system. It's hard to tell whether, in 1983, Tabori was responding to a social trend, calling out outliers, or providing critical satire on the century's darkest hours. While Tabori relies on mixed metaphors and stylized dialogue similar to Tabori's other reproduction, Mein Kampf, he also lays out his intentions in this dramatic tale of death and woe much clearer. There is no wondering whether we are to understand evil or contemplate the profundity of a satirical jab at the meaninglessness of wishing to prevent that which already occurred. No, it is clear that evil must be stopped immediately. This is shown expertly rather than told. We, as the audience, must relive the deaths of five innocents, each of which is related to the actions of the hateful, young skinhead, Juergen played terrifically by David Knowle whose villainous posturing and venomous tone captured the essence of hate.

Jubilee revolves around Juergen's visits to the graveyard where the victims of his hate lie buried. It may be said that he attempts to reconcile with some measure of guilt for their deaths, and yet he simultaneously tortures these dead ghosts further. In one scene he quite literally punches them in the face. While sometimes it seems like Juergen does, in fact, regret causing so many deaths, he spends most of the play rubbing into these ghosts that they are, in fact, dead. Each scene from the opening in which all of the ghosts and Juergen appear together develops in further detail how it is that these characters met their fates and ended up buried together in this particular spot. The first of these is an old man named Arnold, played by G.W. Reed. His performance is more than adequate to the role and starts the play off on a somber but patient tone. The young Juergen prank calls old Arnold and he tells his wife, Lotte, played exceptionally well by Cordis Heard, that it is just the "poor freak." He keeps up an uplifting reminiscence of when they first met until Juergen reminds him of the death of Mitzi, Lotte's late sister's only child. Lotte attempts to keep Arnold happy, but Juergen apparently doesn't think he has harassed the old man enough, however, and he shows up on the doorstep to put a bullet in Arnold's chest. From there, we dive into the interrelated events (and deaths) that have led to this moment.

The first three deaths are the suicides of Mitzi (Andrea Lynn Green), Otto (Jeff Burchfield), and Helmut (Derrick Peterson). While it doesn't seem to directly state which death came first chronologically, the play's timeline continues with Helmut, who is the gay spouse of Otto and Juergen's uncle. Helmut is upset at his nephew's constant hate and unpunished crimes against the Jewish, so he gets himself circumcised. Helmut begins to mentally self-destruct when he can't reach Juergen and eventually ends up in a hospital to receive treatment for his sexual preference as the source of his melancholy. He "succumbs" to the treatment and is left in a room with a belt just as a Nazi once left a prisoner in a room with a belt. Helmut uses it to hang himself in the same manner that the prisoner once was forced to in World War II. Upon receiving the news, Otto does the same, slipping into the water after taking sleeping pills. While it may seem that these deaths do not have much to do with the evil of Juergen, Mitzi's death is more clearly related begging us to ask the question, "When do we act?" Mitzi moved to this new school and fell ill-fated in love with a young boy in a long, black coat. While she never specifically says Juergen, he happens to always be wearing a long, black, coat. Seemingly as a joke or possibly out of some interest (shown in the form of hate?), Juergen sends Mitzi a letter. She is excited to read it, but upon opening it, she reads aloud, "How come they (the Nazis) missed you?" She promptly responds by putting her head in an oven. Are these instigator-less crimes? Is there no one to blame? Do we wait to stop the hatred until an outright act of violence has been committed such as the execution-style shooting of old Arnold?

David Knowle performs an excellent soliloquy suggesting that we, deep down as people, relish the chance to be evil and dismiss the small evils, better described as warning signs. Maybe this is true. each of these four deaths seems to be modeled after the deaths of Jewish prisoners during World War II. So how does Lotte end up in the cemetery with the other four? As it turned out, she is slowly drowned in a telephone booth amidst a parade. If the other death's metaphors don't draw enough clear allusions to World War II, Cordis Heard's passionate and desperate plea must ring true. At first, she is calm, letting every one of her safe friends know that she will be going away for a while when suddenly she realizes that water is leaking into her phone booth. She begins to ask calmly for help, but her friends think she is pranking them and start hanging up on her. The door is stuck shut, and the parade goers are too busy partying to notice her plight. Her friends continue to ignore her desperation, and she begins to bid them goodbye until finally, the water has drowned her. It was a beautiful performance by Cordis to tie the deaths together. Before World War II, many people likely knew that something was happening. Some left, but most either couldn't or by the time they realized they needed to, they were no longer able to leave the country. They asked for help, but people didn't listen. Many were too excited about the good things to care (the "parades"). Those stuck in Central Europe before the fighting broke out were drowned in front of everyone who never even lifted a finger in their defense.

While maybe this, for some people, was enough, the final act demonstrates the true darkness of ignoring those deaths that were evident. Andrea Lynn Green puts on an outright virtuoso performance as Mitzi with a conclusive plea. She portrays this through "what she learned about Hitler" for a school paper. She shifts characters and voices to showcase her range and ability, describing the needless hanging by the Nazis of a number of children aged 5 to 12 who were ordered to their deaths to conceal an experiment using the children to test an "anti-tuberculosis serum." It was a privilege to watch her work with such passion. The deaths were needless and horrible, but had action been taken, could the evil have been stopped even before Mitzi and the oven? While the inherent thesis does not stand on any single, specific story, it does display, in my opinion, exactly what Tabori had intended. This collection of snippets, comparable to a slide show or a series of dreams, provides a look into what it was like to watch the evil unfold as a member of the minority communities in Nazi Germany. There is very, little classic plot to speak of, but I would say that Tabori understood this. Instead of seeing the play develop in a classical way toward a climax, each scene becomes a clearer and clearer depiction of what the Nazi evil developed into to the point that researchers viewed children as "guinea pigs." The question must be asked even though we might hear the cries for help, "does Juergen listen?" See at Theater For The New City on May 20th or May 21st at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available on the website, Enjoy!  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf 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!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

Hitler arrives at Frau Merschmeyer's home for the homeless in Vienna-on-the-Danube after having traveled all night in a crowded third-class carriage from Braunau-on-the Inn, that bucolic little town of his birth, "bordering two Germanic states, whose reunion by all available means is the towering task of all true patriots." He has an interview with the Academy Of Fine Arts and is hoping to achieve his fortune as an artist, "a vocation predestined by my considerable graphic talent." One of his roommates in the flophouse is an old, ugly, Jewish man named Shlomo Herzl, who sells Lutheran Bibles, has visitations with Fraulein Gretchen Maria Globuschek-Bornemissza-Eszterfalvy (the last virgin over fourteen in Vienna), and who helps Hitler prepare for his interview by trimming his mustache and helping him shine his shoes. Hitler is very grateful and tells Shlomo, "Jew, I appreciate your assistance. When my time has come I shall reward you suitably. I'll buy you an oven, so you'll be warm, and when you get old I'll find you a solution..." Shlomo later suggests Hitler go into politics and mentions he is writing an autobiography he might call Mein Kampf (i.e. My Struggle), a name Hitler likes. His other roommate is "Lobkowitz the Loon, a kookie kosher cook, defrocked some years ago by his boss Moskowitz for mixing cream cheese with boiled beef, an insult to Mosaic law." After being fired, he fell into a coma and when he came out of it ten days later, he was under the impression he was God. In our first introduction to him, he says, "I called out in the dark, from behind the burning bush, where art thou, Shlomo Herzl, to receive the glad tidings that I reduced the Ten Commandments to three, but adultery is still in; plus the good old evergreens: (A) One God Is Enough and That's Me. B) If You Cannot Honor Your Parents, Call Them At Least Once A Week. (C) Before You Covet Your Neighbor's Wife, Make Sure He's Smaller Than You."

The young Hitler is depicted as needy, unloved, and paranoid. He has no talent as an artist and is rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts. Baron von Kropf, with his "undulating hairdo, perfumed handkerchief in his breast pocket, a pearl stuck into a silk bow tie, dove-grey spats, this baronial rector-rectum, exuding decadence, dared to suggest that I become a house-painter." With Shlomo's help, Hitler does sell some watercolors on the street to get by. He jerked off like other boys but has had no sexual experiences, cannot laugh, and was never hugged or kissed by his mother. Hitler refers to sexual relations as "intercoursing" and Shlomo makes fun of him saying, "Oh my God, policemen, and horses I can somewhat abide but get me out of the clutches of this Tyrolean faggola." Just to make sure you have the worst possible opinion of the future Fuehrer (in case his being responsible for the deaths of millions was not enough for you to have a negative opinion of him), playwright George Tabori has Lobkowitz (God) gratuitously comment on Hitler in a manner intended to defame him. Lobkowitz says of Hitler, "He sleeps all day, his mouth open. He either snores, a terrible buzz saw snore or talks in his dreams, snorting shreds of maledictions. Also, he is a champion snot flinger: a snort, a scrabbling excavation, producing a caterpillar-sized piece of desiccated slime, contemplates upon it with the curiosity of an archeologist, rolls it into a neat ball, flicks it across space. One lands, bang, on the windowpane, another, in a wide arc, splash, between my eyes." In case you didn't get the playwright's point, Shlomo mentions that Hitler walks around with a smelly backside because his mother never taught him to properly clean himself. He also gratuitously writes the young Hitler as having chronic constipation and makes him a hypochondriac. Shlomo taunts Hitler by suggesting his surname is Jewish and that they are probably cousins. Hitler resists the suggestion telling Shlomo, "You must have water on the brain. My blood is pure as driven snow, issue of a stock that is hard as flint, fast as a whippet." Hitler reserves to himself the right to be the sole judge of what and who he considers to be foreign and that includes Shlomo - "your accent, for example, your entire demeanor, and especially your nose, not to mention your twisted tongue, which turns into a question what you obviously intend as a statement." Shlomo eventually becomes a slave/father figure to the young Hitler, who confesses he never really wished to be a painter. He explains that was just "a tactical device to fool the fools." What he really wants is "The world!" including New Zealand. Especially New Zealand!    

Gretchen, convincingly portrayed by Andrea Lynn Green, represents "innocence" in the play. Shlomo, the old, ugly Jew, is perceived by Hitler as being "a debaucher of innocence." Gretchen promises to stay with Shlomo and randomly gives him Mitzi, a chicken, to keep him company until she is of age. In the meantime, she picks specks off his forehead, hugs him, clips his toenails, and allow him to pet her hymen, which became dislodged during a shower accident. Shlomo Herzl, played to perfection by Jon Freda, unwittingly gives Hitler the confidence he needs to enter politics. Fearing there may be some embarrassing details about him in Shlomo's Mein Kampf, Hitler and his friends confront him demanding to see what he has written. Wielding a large knife, Hitler's friend Himmlisch (Jeff Burchfield) impliedly threatens Shlomo's physical well-being and foreshadows the future violence of the Third Reich by killing and dismembering the chicken in the process of making "a Mitzi Schnitzel in a delicious blood sauce." Cordis Heard makes an appearance as Frau Death. She plays the part in a laid back, low-key manner that makes her presence all the more chilling. For example, she explains to Shlomo, "I'm not interested in your friend as a corpse. As a corpse, as a victim, he is absolutely mediocre. But as a criminal, as a mass murderer, as an exterminating angel - a natural talent." Looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Frau Death, Hitler says, "Madam, I shall not disappoint you!" As they are leaving, Hitler asks Frau Death if he can go get his toothbrush. She responds, "Yes, of course. There are plenty of teeth, hair, and gold fillings in the place we're going." Frau Death even has some final words for Shlomo telling him, "My poor Shlomo. If you knew what is to come! Fire will be set onto you. It will eat up every green and dry tree. Every face, from south to north, will be singed." Finally, G.W. Reed, who does a great job as Lobkowitz returns to the stage. Shlomo says, "Some God. Where have you been?" to which he responds, "I was here. I'm always here. Only you forgot to look (he sniffs at the pan that contained Mitzi). Smells good. Eat my son, not in hunger, but in the hope to ingest the martyr's strength you will need in all the years to come. You will need it."

The star of this production of Mein Kampf is Omri Kadim, a talented, charismatic actor who plays Hitler. His representation of the inexperienced young future Fuhrer raises possibilities left unaddressed in the script. Sure, there is some clever writing and some interesting monologues and dialogues, but in the end, other than the unconcealed hatred George Tabori exhibits towards Hitler, he really doesn't offer up a consistent premise or a thesis as to why and how Hitler turned out as he did. Were the elements of his dictatorial spirit and the potential for evil present in this young man from the beginning or might his exposure to different experiences have changed the course of his life. The presence of Lobkowitz and Shlomo in his room in the flophouse only reinforced his stereotypical and racial views towards Jews. But what if he, instead, was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts or fell under the influence of a rich, masculine acting gay man who provided Hitler with his first sexual experiences and some fun "intercoursing?" I can't help but think things might have turned out different. Omri Kadim's magnificent performance gave me a lot to think about in what was, otherwise, a relatively mediocre play.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

George Tabori's Mein Kampf represents the playwright's "darkly satirical" side. The irony of this poignant play about Hitler's youth in Vienna draws on Tabori's cleverly crafted circumstances to entice laughs despite the reality of how long past events once unfolded. The play paints Hitler as an incapable louse assisted in a flophouse (a residence for the poor) by an old and ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl, who inadvertently allows the creation of the future monster. While it is a little unsettling to recall how Tabori seems to portray Hitler as imminently damnable, reflecting on the play may be the only reason I find it discomforting. The themes are portrayed in a well-contrasted manner presenting the futility of one's attempts to be a good person. Despite the fact that it may be light on realism, how can one not pause to ponder? The seriousness of the subject of Hitler causes lingering fear and a bitter taste in hopefully everyone. Regardless, Jewish himself, George Tabori's comical version of Hitler's youth may have been an effective way of framing events in an effort to make it easier to cope with the reality of World War II's atrocities. Tabori presents the starkness of evil alongside humor possibly partially as a means of reconciliation and also as a forewarning even if the humor is mixed with unconcealed hate.

The play is split into two acts that explore the fragile thread we walk as humans in different ways by following the life of the old, ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl (Jon Freda); more often called "Shlomo." Shlomo opens with an intense discussion about fulfilling God's purpose with Lobkowitz (G.W. Reed), a man who believes himself to be God (after an accident involving head trauma). This exchange presents Shlomo, a man who sells Bibles, as a person who spreads the word of God regardless of denomination. Shlomo also questions the exercise, pitches a story about his life as a pathological liar who doomed his father as "Mein Kampf." Here we meet the embodiment of evil, young Hitler (Omri Kadim), who steps in and says "that's it" to the name and surprising the other two who thought the conversation was private. At first, Hitler doesn't seem much more than a little arrogant. He and Shlomo argue about proper manners, and he concedes to re-enter the room after knocking. As the two characters grow closer together, however, Hitler grows more despotic as Shlomo assumes a fatherly role to the young would-be artist who likes painting the twilight. For example, before Hitler's interview for attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Shlomo shines Hitler's shoes for him because Hitler is despondent about being unable to fix the mistake of having used brown instead of black polish. Only Shlomo can't fix everything because when Hitler runs out of the house, he forgets his pants. If only it had been as simple as putting on pants!

Hitler seems every bit as corruptible, impressionable, and paranoid as he needs to be from the start of his time in Vienna. In contrast to this representation of budding evil, Shlomo interacts with another character in the first act who shirks the pursuit of wealth: the excellent Andrea Lynn Green's Gretchen. While Hitler appears flamboyant and filled with ambition, Gretchen lacks greed or desire. When Shlomo questions why it is that she entreats an ugly, old man like him to devote his life to her, she responds simply. Her wealthy parents committed suicide because their life was just too perfect, they were too beautiful and rich. As a result, she intends to be with him, because he is both ugly and poor. As a metaphor for goodness, it makes sense, but during the play, it does come off as more than a bit awkward and slightly fantastical especially when Gretchen cuts Shlomo's toenails. In addition, it does make me wonder if all beautiful people that are interested in money are evil. That being said, the scene closed the first act on a high note. The four main actors that appeared were all very good. Jon Freda and Omri Kadim had tremendous rapport, working well together as Shlomo and Hitler respectively. All four had to contend with numerous distractions such as sirens and dogs barking but never once flinched.

Unfortunately, act two disappointed because not only did it add new layers to the plot rather than closing threads, the acting didn't match the intensity of the piece. Cordis Heard as Frau Death had some difficulty with lines and timing which seemed to throw off Freda as Shlomo as well. In addition, Jeff Burchfield as Himmlisch, had slight difficulty maintaining composure while violently pulling apart a chicken. He contained his shaking as he wielded a sharp knife with what seemed like an actual, raw chicken, but it had me worried. It may have been a better decision to mime the chopping, but luckily no one was hurt and he completed his soliloquy. These factors contributed to distract from the momentum that the first act developed. The major threads did tie rather neatly when Shlomo continued his luckless dooming of the innocent such as when his lies as a child doomed his father. In act two, in an effort to be a good person, Shlomo diverts Frau Death's attention in an effort to stave off Hitler's death. Is Shlomo, therefore, the one responsible for the death of everyone in World War II or are we, the audience, at fault for not stepping in? Tabori seems to challenge the audience directly and subtly during act two by asking us why we didn't do anything to stop evil in its tracks. After saving Hitler from death, Shlomo remarks to Death that perhaps the purpose of poetry is to "chat up death and stall" which could stand as a metaphor for the human condition diverting its attention as time slips away. It's the second time that Shlomo makes reference to the purpose of poetry during the play, but he changes the meaning a third time after Hitler "goes into politics." With Hitler demonstrating to Shlomo the man that he will become, Shlomo states that the purpose of poetry may, therefore, be "the entertainment of the wicked."

Considering the first iterations of Greek plays were considered forms of poems, have we the wicked, who only spectate as events unfold, been entertained? Yes. Overall, the cast and crew did a great job marred only slightly by some rough spots that made it difficult to fully appreciate the play's depth in the immediate aftermath of viewing it. I really liked the set design and for the most part, the acting was solid. The play contains a multitude of complex themes. While it doesn't seem to be concerned with discovering how it is that people become evil, it does present effective questioning of life and death and the meaning of life. If you come to understand how evil seeps in on men with even the purest and innocent of intentions, then you will be completely out of luck. If you're looking to be entertained by the hapless efforts of two strangers in Vienna with comedy that leans toward slapstick and the bonus of a resonantly original take on human existence, then Mein Kampf is definitely for you. See at Theater for the New City on May 14th, 3 p.m. or May 16-19th at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available for purchase on the website, Enjoy!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Reckless Season
Written by Lauren Ferebee
Directed by Dominic D'Andrea
TheaterLab NYC
357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10018
Reviewed 4/29/17

The Reckless Season stuck with me afterward in a different way than other plays I've seen recently. The production was solid all around, but it wasn't just those carefully orchestrated events on stage that kept me thinking about The Reckless Season. This play challenged me at a basic level to not fall into the same self-destructive cycles that the characters fell into, and I think it can affect anyone who views it in a similar way to a lesser or greater degree. Key characters delved into drug abuse to escape painful memories, and I internalized the message that drugs and alcohol aren't an escape - they're the curse. That internalization factor of potential viewers made the performances of the actors far more personal. The characters in The Reckless Season all had a nearly impossible time of dealing with normal life in different but related ways. As they continued to get in their own ways, the audience watched a loose social circle self-destruct. Seeing those escapist behaviors I sometimes recognize in me, my family and friends, reflected tenfold, tear apart the characters that acted on these impulses was a strong message.

The play develops in the aftermath of Terry (Trace Pope) and Simon's (Chase Burnett) mother's suicide. The mother, suffering from depression, loneliness, and drug abuse, kills herself with sleeping pills she bought from Flynn (Brian Morvant), a miscreant who targets veterans with pills and drugs that he offers as help to escape their nightmares. The two brothers are at odds from the start. At first glance, it seems like Simon, the soldier returning from the Middle East, is more put together than his video game obsessed younger brother, Terry. However, when confronted with the death of their mother and the reality of their estrangement, the illusory facade wipes away quickly. Terry works at a truck stop, has played the same unbeatable and outdated history game every day since his brother left for the army four years ago, and spends his late nights at that same truck stop when he feels alone. Trace Pope not only made it pretty convincing, he seemed like he had become the role. Chase Burnett was just as consumed by his character, Simon, who was somehow more socially disinclined than his younger brother. After seeing too much of the darker edge to warfare, his nightmares and the death of his mother trigger a quick descent into drugs and alcohol only stemmed by the voices of reason and anarchy that exist in the forms of Lisa (Amanda Tudor) and the aforementioned Flynn.

Lisa, another veteran with her own hangover from the war, works at the truck stop with Terry and recognizing his loneliness offers to accompany him to the cremation of Simon and Terry's mother. When she arrives, Simon confronts her, but he is given a taste of his own medicine as she grills him on abandoning his family and especially his younger brother Terry. Simon admits he could've done better, but as the two brothers attempt to reconcile through resuming domestic life, Simon begins to fall apart. While he makes valid attempts at resurrecting a relationship with his brother through having dinner at the table and watching him play his video game, he also literally smashes a beeping fire alarm with a hammer and walks around pulling gulps from the mouth of a bottle of vodka like a belligerent Russian on a drinking spree. We soon learn he also has been buying drugs from Flynn to help him sleep. As Simon descends, Terry begins to distance himself more, and when Terry goes to Lisa for friendship, he discovers what we already know: she too has been at the mercy of Flynn. While she was very good at giving advice, she couldn't follow it completely. Having become clean after becoming pregnant, one night when her husband is arrested, she calls Flynn up and we watch as she breaks her promises.

None of the characters is perfect. They are all having a hard time with themselves. However, Terry is technically clean of any direct guilt if your moral standards extend only so far as alcohol and drugs because he technically did nothing while his mother fell into oblivion. Flynn, in particular, struggles with the realization he isn't helping anyone as he always felt like he was one of the good guys. Terry lets him know no one really wants him around with a softly delivered line that leaves Flynn devastated, "You're the water" (and now I'm paraphrasing) that weighs down one's clothes after swimming in a lake. Flynn seeks out external validation for his existence from Simon and later Lisa who give him the message more directly. Simon literally knocks him unconscious when Flynn refuses to sell him drugs, and Lisa gets so agitated that her water breaks. Meanwhile, Terry is on a tear at this point, and when Simon asks him to go with him on an adventure to take their mother's ashes just about anywhere, Terry only replies, "I want you to leave." He only agrees to join when Simon promises that after the trip, he will never come back. This seems a little harsh from Terry who has been a non-participant in the relationship and didn't try to contact his brother throughout the war. We don't have a lot of time to mull it over though; the brother's soul searching adventure is interrupted by Flynn calling to ask Terry to come to the hospital at Lisa's request. As Lisa screams during childbirth and Terry argues with the doctors to see her despite not being kin, Simon drops the box with their mother's ashes spilling it all over the floor. Flynn tries to help him, but then Terry appears resulting in the final confrontation between brothers.

My overall reaction to this play is that it is worth seeing, but I am a little skeptical of some of the writing and of the characterizations. Having met veterans of almost every war the United States has fought in since 1941, I've never met any so incapable of dealing with their experiences. The Vietnam veterans in my family just never talked about it, but none of them slipped so far into cheap coping mechanisms like drugs. However, I don't think any of the veterans of Iraq I have met saw any live combat. So maybe these are realistic depictions of what it is like to come back from active combat where you have to be on edge constantly. I can't give you a definitive answer on that but it seems a little misguided to associate all combat veterans with such direct inability to cope with life afterward. The play, as I said, put things into perspective though. If a soldier faced with the lingering memory of death can sound like a misanthropic whiner, I should be able to handle a lighter load without spending my nights nursing glasses of whiskey and wine. If you can get passed the fact these people's mental fortitude sometimes feels like it has the viscosity of glass, then you'll easily be able to enjoy this play. While I do think it gets a little long and some of the dialogue seems redundant between Simon and Lisa, the acting, writing, and set design are exquisite. I recommend you see it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Blake Zolfo in 25!: A Premature Retrospective at The Metropolitan Room by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Blake Zolfo in 25!: A Premature Retrospective at The Metropolitan Room was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

25: A Premature Retrospective
Starring Blake Zolfo
Musical Director: Steve Schalchlin
Director: Andy Gale
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 4/21/17

In his new show entitled 25!: A Premature Retrospective, Blake Zolfo showcased an impressive amount of variety in his voice while skillfully relating his own story to the audience in an artful and humble manner. Well-dressed, funny, and with an accompanist and piano to his right, Blake looked as comfortable on stage at The Metropolitan Room as if he was reclining on a beach with a martini glass tilting in the sun. Blake's "premature retrospective" evidenced both remarkable maturity and prescience. He remarked that his hard work has paid off in different ways than he imagined and related an important truth. While he may have once thought he could have it all at once, he is much more comfortable putting in the work to take it day-by-day at 25 than he was a mere decade ago when he thought he might have been further along in his career. Through brief interludes and often comical lyrics, the audience learned about the things that have driven this young performer to continue to perfect his craft.

About half of the songs Blake performed were written by Blake's accompanist, Steve Schalchlin, and these were some of the most heart-warming and personal. One of the best was a song called "Keep Me Guessing." This funny and cute tune was used to tell the story of one of Blake's past relationships. Through a variety of charming and comedic experiences, Blake learned it was important to him to be kept on his toes. Blake's ability to make stylistic jumps by performing various types of songs kept us "guessing" as to what might come next.

From the very start, Blake had us intrigued. The pair began the performance with "Only Kind Of Music" (Schalchlin), a wonderful duet which featured a surprise instrumental solo. Setting us up for smiles, Blake pulled out a plastic Kazoo. Throughout the night, he showed a consistent ability to adjust his pitch to the needs of the song. He often harmonized well with Steve when needed and broke away with melodic lyrics and robust vocalizations. The tone of the show settled in as light-hearted with Blake performing a fun song called "Triple Threat" (Schalchlin/Shapiro) about being an actor, dancer, and singer just like everyone else in New York. His humility and self-deprecating humor were never too demeaning and were offset by his easy confidence and charming smile.

Blake did also step away from the more humorous part of the show at times to communicate important messages. The first of these was about keeping one's head up despite obstacles. He finished the first short collection of songs with a sonorous version of The Beatles' "I Will" that stood out as particularly well-done. These small song sets were split by interludes about what he had learned from the experience and how it related to the next group of songs. For example, after performing "What's The Point?" (Kander/Pierce), a song and quick tap dance from his recent role in an Off-Broadway play, Kid Victory, he shared that while he learned he typically indulged in relentless preparation, he needed to simply take the risk. 

This lesson related well to searching for love in New York, and Blake combined the two for a great collection of songs that included my favorite performance of his from the night: J.D. Souther's "Faithless Love." Blake truly displayed the range of his vocal abilities with this song. It showed his depth, and the song fit nicely within the story of the show as if it was the climax. I do hope he performs more like it in the future. He followed this up with more musical-like songs as well as one by Jule Styne entitled "Make Someone Happy," which he explained is his main mission on stage and with new relationships.

All in all, I must say I am looking forward to the types of things that might be included in a future retrospective by this young and talented performer. He had an easy ability to communicate his story in a relatable way and his timing was impeccable. I think Blake would do well in additional musical roles and hopefully, when he is ready to share more important life lessons, he will have too many musicals and lessons to choose from. Thank you for a fun night at the Met Room Blake, and I'm looking forward to the next one! Blake Zolfo's 25!: A Premature Retrospective will return to The Metropolitan Room on May 25, 2017 and June 22, 2017. Both shows are at 7 p.m. and have a $20.00 cover and $25.00 food/drink minimum. To make reservations, go to or call 212-206-0440.

Applause! Applause! Review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Margaret's War
Written by Wolstan W. Brown
Directed by Suzanne Viverito
The Shelter Rock Players of UUCSR
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
48 Shelter Rock Road
Manhasset, New York 11030
Reviewed 4/29/17

I attended the world premiere of Wolstan W. Brown's new play Margaret's War, a Holocaust Rescue Drama inspired by the real-life efforts of Marguerite Pohek to help Jews leave Austria in 1939. On March 12, 1938, German troops entered Austria and annexed it in what has been called the Anschluss. This action was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Austrians. As for Austrian Jews, their support was a little less enthusiastic. In the play, Margaret Polanksi (Karin Lyngstad-Hughes) is a Unitarian Minister and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Philadelphia who has volunteered to work at the Society of Friends Service Committee office in Vienna. She arrives in June 1939 and helps those who wish to leave Austria to get visas to travel elsewhere. It is prior to the commencement of World War II, so Jews are still permitted to travel outside the country so long as they take no more than 500 marks with them. To help Jews without proper documentation, the Society of Friends Service Committee employs official and unofficial procedures, forges documents, helps clients obtain new identities, and in the case of Gail Simmons (Diane Mansell), Margaret's lesbian partner, and professional colleague, even helps a client, Frida Katzenberg (Carol McHugh), hide valuables in her body cavities. Not only is Frida arrested but she turns around and fingers Gail not only for helping her hide the smuggled goods but for also, allegedly, fingering her. Captain Pelhortz (Michael Harrison Carlin), the Nazi bureaucrat in charge knows what the Society of Friends Service Committee is up to and explains to Margaret her friend Gail faces 2 years in prison for aiding and abetting the smuggling and 10 years in prison for sexual abuse. Margaret acts stupid telling Captain Pelhortz she can't understand how adult women could engage in "sexual abuse" with one another. He tries to trade the well-being of her friend Gail for Margaret's "cooperation" in revealing the details of the "services" they provide but Margaret turns the tables on Captain Pelhortz by using a doctored photograph to convince him she and Gail are "good friends" of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The bluff works for the time being and Gail is released.

At this point in 1939, only 37 Jewish men have gone missing and most of those were arrested for speaking against Hitler or against the Anschluss. Gretta Schuler's husband, a High School teacher, was arrested for speaking against Herr Hitler. His arrest left his wife Gretta (Katina Mitchell) and his daughter Bette (Sylvia Mitchell) in a dire financial situation, eventually leading to Gretta abandoning her daughter at the office of the Society of Friends Service Committee. Lesbian partners and unmarried women are not permitted to adopt children in America so Margaret and her supervisor Oscar Smith (Robert Nuxoll) engage in a forgery flurry to allow Margaret to take Bette to America as a tourist but with the true intention of bringing her up as her own child. Of course, Gail objects that Margaret made such a life-changing decision without even consulting her but when Margaret makes it clear she is not putting Bette up for adoption, Gail is forced to accept the circumstances. They seem pleased to imagine they may wake up in the morning discovering Bette sleeping in their bed with them. Despite the fact that they took Bette out of Austria without the required permission of her father, they pledge to Bette they will never give her up even if her parents show up and want her back. Sounds like child abduction and human trafficking to me but it appears all felonies, forgeries, and falsifications can be forgiven so long as everything is done in service of a good cause. Michael Harrison Carlin doubled as Peter Reilly, Hank Arond was the American Immigration Inspector, and Gerald Matusiewicz played the Nazi Guard. 

Suzanne Viverito was the Director of Margaret's War. My introduction to her was when I observed her yelling at Wolstan W. Brown, the playwright, and producer, for letting audience members into the Worship Room ten minutes earlier than she would have liked. Everyone felt quite uncomfortable witnessing this unprofessional outburst. Ms. Viverito told Mr. Brown that if he ever has another play produced here that he is not to let anyone in until she says so. Staff offered to ask the audience members to leave but she then revealed that everything was set up anyway and there was no need to ask anyone to get up out of their seats. So what was the point of the tirade other than for her to assert power and control over a fellow human being. As for her directorial decisions, I think Ms. Viverito could have made better use of video clips to provide more atmosphere and historical grounding for this play. As for the cast, they were far from seasoned professionals and there were many missed lines but overall, the play was well-served by their performances. The play was performed in two acts and there was a fine display of free food (i.e. cookies, fruit) for audience members to nibble on during intermission. The main point of the play can be summed up in the following statement Gail Simmons said to Margaret Polanski, "You didn't get everyone but you did get one!" Net proceeds from the two performances of Margaret's War were donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.