note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Apollinaire Theatre at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea, tackles the question of what defines who we are, in four international plays appearing through April 30: Roland Schimmelpfennig’s 70-minute thriller, “Arabian Night,” that addresses our fantasies; Toshiki Okada’s two-act, two-hour comedy of manners, “Enjoy,” that focuses on our jobs; Marius von Mayenberg’s 60-minute comedy, “The Ugly One,” which focuses on our looks; and Hannah Moscovitch’s 90-minute, searing “East of Berlin,” that explores our parents.
After seeing “East of Berlin,” directed by Apollinaire’s fantastically talented artistic director, Danielle Fauteux-Jacques, I wish I’d seen all four. “Berlin” is an astonishingly stirring work of art.
Full of psychological and societal surprises, the play leads us to personalities and places we haven’t encountered before - to expatriate offspring of two high level Nazi officers, and the Jewish daughter of a concentration camp survivor and her American military rescuer.
Although the two Nazi war criminals (who are unseen throughout the play), unapologetically call themselves patriots, our narrator, Rudi, son of a Nazi doctor, (whom Evan Sanderson portrays brilliantly) says South American countries welcomed them with open arms. “My dad lost the war,” he says, adding, for years, he was told his dad was wounded while fighting in Russia.
Rudi learns otherwise from his intellectual school chum, Hermann, son of another Nazi ex-patriate, (sensitively portrayed by Harry Hobbs), who shows Rudi a pictorial book on the Final Solution - Jewish genocide, and Rudi’s father, touting his involvement.
When Rudi confronts his father, he claims all doctors had “ramp” or selection duty, based on labor requirements. Suddenly, the teenager’s happy, methodically boring family life in Paraguay falls apart. Thinking his father was an attentive dad with pride in his German homeland, who runs a pharmaceutical company, Rudi is shattered, leading him on a path of self-destruction.
Rudi is taken aback when Hermann, whose father is a known womanizer and consorts with prostitutes, comes on to Rudi. When Rudi’s father catches them in the act, Rudi explodes, attacking his father. Rudi tells us he isn’t really gay. He obviously wanted to hurt his father. Instead, his father responded with stony silence.
Rudi decides to attend school in West Berlin, where he throws himself into his studies, and is told he has a natural aptitude for science. School officials recommend he attend medical school.
Buckling under his father’s guilt and his own curiosity, Rudi visits a Jewish genealogical museum and library where he meets and pursues an American Jewish girl named Sarah, (Alison Meirowitz McCarthy). He pursues her romantically, especially after learning her mother was in the same concentration camp where Rudi’s dad performed his heinous experiments. Plagued by nightmares, Sarah’s mother later committed suicide.
As the ultimate insult to his father, Rudi proposes to Sarah, without revealing his background. The story takes ironic, chilling twists which Rudi reveals neurotically, then fades to dark.
Apollinaire Theatre Company’s Foreign Fest, four plays appearing separately through April 30. Advance tickets per show are $20; at the door, $25; advance senior tickets, $18; student rush an hour before show, $15; festival pass for four shows, $50. After each show is a reception with the actors in the gallery. For “East of Berlin,” showtimes are Thursday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 30, at 6:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, call 617-887-2336 or visit www.apollinairetheatre.com.