note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Theatergoers expect raw humanity, local color, provocative themes, gritty characters, and intuitive reflections of life in Israel Horovitz’s plays.
At Happy Medium Theatre’s provocative production of 90-minute, three-person, one-act fantasy play, “Lebensraum,” Horovitz unleashes a battery of emotions and irony, cleverly weaving together characters and circumstances, then tying everything up in a satisfying epilogue.
“Lebensraum” is defined as “territory believed especially by Nazis to be necessary for national existence or economic self-sufficiency; space required for life.”
Skillful actors R. Nelson Lacey, Michael Underhill, and Audrey Lynn Sylvia are mesmerizing as they transform into 40 multi-age characters from Germany, Israel, Australia, France, and the United States. Reaching into two open chests of drawers, two unobtrusive clothing racks, and a centrally located trunk on the painted floor resembling the German flag, this versatile trio flawlessly switches hats, hairdos, jackets, dialects and accents at dizzying speed.
The play opens with fictional contemporary German Chancellor Rudolph Stroiber (Lacey) extending an invitation to six million Jews internationally to live and work in Germany, with full citizenship and privileges, as recompense for Nazis’ and Hitler’s genocide during World War II. Thing is, not all Germans admit wrongdoing, and others deny a Holocaust occurred in their country. Young Germans are unaware. But most importantly, employed and unemployed Germans resent losing their jobs to a massive influx of Jews.
While some Jews view the chancellor’s offer as an apologetic act of kindness, an undercover group of suspicious Israeli Jews question whether it’s a new neo-Nazi ploy to eradicate today’s Jews.
The first two Jewish arrivals, a male, gay married couple from France, are told their papers aren’t in order and are shuffled away. But Mike Linsky, a Jewish, unemployed dockworker from Gloucester, Mass., his Irish wife, Liz, and handsome 15-year-old son, Sammy, are considered ideal first arrivals and given celebrity treatment.
Ironically, Mike’s antagonistic, longtime German co-worker, Gustav Giesling, resents losing jobs to immigrant Jews; but Geisling’s teen-age daughter, Anna, and Sammy, find love at first sight. Audrey Lynn Sylvia and Michael Underhill add youthful innocence as the young lovers.
Switching hats, facial expressions and tone, Lacey portrays two contrasting, post-war Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Australia - optimistic Maximillian Zylberstein and serious-minded Axel Rosenweig. The embittered Rosenweig, whose entire family was slaughtered in Germany, dismisses the chancellor’s "Project Homecoming" proposal; but his affable 94-year-old sidekick, Zylberstein, embraces it, for his own reasons.
Seated on both sides, with performers in the center of the studio-size theater, we’re captivated, shocked voyeurs, especially after two respected professors vehemently disagree about the new policy and the opposing savant brutally attacks his kindly cohort, crushing his skull, killing him.
That’s only the beginning of incidents involving violence, jealousy, revenge, suspicion, hopefulness and enlightenment. Eventually, striking union workers, Israeli militants, innocent bystanders and do-gooders collide, with disastrous results.
Thankfully, Happy Medium avoids gimmickry. Director Brett Marks, dialect coach Charles Linshaw,Greg Jutkiewicz’s lighting and Deirdre Benson’s jarring sounds enhance this powerful production.
“Lebensraum” comes with a spoiler. This is a fantasy. It never happened, we’re told. But it can.... By the way, Executive Producer Mikey DiLoreto said Horovitz visited Sunday night’s performance, called it beautifully done, and complimented Director-Scenic Designer Brett Marks’ staging and the cast’s performance.
BOX INFO: One-act play, written by Israel Horovitz, performed by Happy Medium Theatre. Appearing to May 24, at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St., South End, Boston: May 22,23, at 8 p.m., May 24, at 3,8 p.m. Advance admission,$20;at the door, $22; students, seniors, $18/$20. Visit www.happymedium.com; tickets:lebensraumboston.brownpapertickets.com.