"Despair overthrown often turns in mad directions."
So says Martin Schulse. Martin, one of two characters in "Address Unknown" -- the latest play in previews at the theatre where Brenda works -- is beginning to slide down the slippery slope into Nazism, in early 1930's Germany. This statement -- along with an amazing monologue that to Martin Schulse is about "liberals" and could easily be heard from the talking head of the week of the neocon plague currently rotting this country -- are among the many gems contained in this wonderful 75 minute theatrical immersion. This is what theatre is supposed to be. I loved Jerry Orbach, but "and you give me Allentown?!?" is not the stuff of real theatre.
Real theatre is an hour and a half of sitting on the edge of your seat, watching something that speaks to you. Real theatre is a verbal and physical accusation, a statement. And when the statement is "look what happened", and that statement so easily translates today to "look what is happening, again, you morons", you take notice.
The play is an adaptation of a story written by Kressmann Taylor that first appeared in "Story" magazine in 1938, brilliantly adapted and directed by Frank Dunlop. The production is one of the greatest theatrical and literary experiences of my life.
"A short time before the war, some cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends returned to Germany after living in the United States. In a very short time they turned into sworn Nazis. They refused to listen to the slightest criticism of Hitler. During a return visit to California, they met an old, dear friend of theirs on the street who had been very close to them, and was a Jew. They did not speak to him. They turned their backs on him when he held his arms out to embrace him. 'How can such a thing happen?' I wondered."
In the course of the short play, you watch Martin go through this transformation, as the two characters -- a Jewish antiques dealer in San Fransisco and Martin who has moved back to Germany as Hitler is ramping up his hate machine -- act out their correspondence.
The dramatic effect of watching these letters come to life, and the lives belonging to the letters morph and interract, is just fantastic theater.
And, I may add, Brenda's costume work was fantastic. It was amazing how Martin's pants seemed perfectly straight in the opening scene, and a few scenes later as the tall black boots went on the thighs only looked slightly blousy, yet when the officer's jacket was finally pulled on, suddenly Martin looked like any SS officer. It was great, just great.
Since this was a preview, the audience was invited to stay after the performance for a "Talk-back", which proved to be as interesting as any I have witnessed (BTW, for this production, they will be hosting talk-backs on every night of the run, not just for previews). The actors, the director and the artistic director held forth with the audience, and yet the audience proved to be the most interesting element. There were WWII participants, and youngins like me yapping about the Patriot Act. It was great.
I hope the George Street Playhouse has a successful run with this show.