The good old times, take two


By Israel Horovitz

Directed by Richard McElvain
The Miranda Theatre Company
259 W. 30th St. (268-9829)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 26)
Review by John Chatterton

Lebensraum is about a near future in which the Chancelor of Germany decides to offer homes to six million Jews, as some compensation for the Holocaust.

The story was told in an intensely theatrical fashion, using just three actors (Actor 1, Jeremy Silver, a young man; Actor 2, Scott Richards, older; and Actor 3, Emme Shaw, a young woman). There was much leaping about, with heads thrust into picture frames to portray some characters, and actor-produced sound effects to represent gunshots, boot thumps, and the like. From the beginning - a stage manager calling "Places!" - to the end, as one character told the message of the play, the audience was not allowed to forget its theatricality.

All the above theatrical overburden worked, with the exception of telling the audence the message - "Show, don't tell" being a good motto for playwrights to burn into their hearts. (That message, that we can't undo the past but must try to make the present as bearable as possible, also doesn't get at some of the other hidden themes of the play.) The only way three actors are going to play dozens of parts is to become quick-change artists, using bits of costumes, props, special lighting, and caricature to portray their many roles. These things they did well, and the script succeeded in providing the materials the cast so deftly brought to life - the flow was cinematic as Horovitz intercuts among the various stories of his characters.

A Buchenwald survivor becomes a nurse's aide to an old woman, unable to talk, who turned his family over to the Nazi killing machine. He spends his time at her bedside telling her all he can remember of the horrors of the camps, for a year, while she lies helpless. A young couple - he Jewish and from America, she German -fall in love in the shadows cast by the political firestorm ignited by Operation Homecoming. The young man's father, formerly an unemployed docker in Gloucester, Mass. (Horovitz's hometown), is pitted by his situation as a favored worker against the girl's father, now laid-off and bitter as any German of the '30s. And so it goes. Horovitz shows great skill in weaving these stories together - as did the actors and director in presenting it. There's even humor and more than a little schmaltz in its overall somber tones.

The weaknesses of the story are that it is told with great gobs of narration and that it suggests that, like the sentimentalized Anne Frank, Jews should offer forgiveness to the Germans - as long as the new Jews remember to keep their wits, and guns, about them. For a play supposedly conceived in anger at continued casual anti-Semitism in Germany, it has a surprisingly soft core. But those are caveats with which the reader might disagree; this play contains much that is fresh and much that must be said, if only to keep alive a dialog that some would rather not hear.

(Set design, Lisa Pegnato; Lighting design, Scott Poitras; Costume design, Jane Alois Stein; Music Design, Richard McElvain.)

Box Score:

Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1

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Copyright 1997 John Chatterton