Theater for the New City

George Tabori's Jubilee at the Theater for the New City

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.

Photo of GW Read and Andrea Lynn Green - photo by Michael E Mason and provided by Theater for the New City

Photo of GW Read and Andrea Lynn Green - photo by Michael E Mason and provided by Theater for the New City

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!

The Fare at the Theater for the New City

This review of Claude Solnik's The Fare 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!

The Fare
Written by Claude Solnik
Directed by Scott David Reeves
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 3/24/17

The Fare is Claude Solnik's latest play being produced at Theater For The New City. Claude is a prolific playwright who is unafraid to dive into touchy subjects. The Fare is an interesting play and I enjoyed it, but it does have room for improvement. The story leaves little to the imagination and while the dialogue is generally reasonable, there are some rough moments. It's direct and punchy, but unfortunately, it fails to deliver a coherent message. It is a fast-paced drama about a banker and a cabbie that gives the audience a chance to contemplate how some Manhattanites might relate to one another in a difficult circumstance. 

The play itself revolves around the conflict between a Pakistani cab driver (Omar, played by Hemang Sharma) and a New York banker (Rich, played by Scott Reeves). We come to learn that neither of the characters is perfect and that while both of them tell the same story to the police and to the audience, they each frame themselves as the victim. After a disagreement regarding the cost of a cab ride after Rich's late night of drinking at a charity event, Omar locks the cab doors on him. In response, Rich pulls out a pen knife. The knife cuts Omar when he reaches through to the back of the cab and somehow Rich runs off leaving the pen knife behind. Rich says injuring Omar was an accident while Omar says it was malicious intent. While this does provide for the drama of the play, there are some inconsistencies that make it questionable. How did Omar's hand end up in the back seat? What is the deal with this fare and how come it is not paid? Now, it may be easy to say "well, that's the point of the play," but yes and no. The banker had the cabbie stop at a deli/convenience store and he could've gone to an ATM if he didn't have any cash to pay for the cab ride. Otherwise, he could have just paid by credit card. Regardless of these details, you may be entertained by the circumstances that envelop the two characters after this confrontation.

Fourth stage at Theater for the New City

Fourth stage at Theater for the New City

The real strength of the plot lies in Rich's fall from grace and subsequent legal battle to reclaim his life. He has a revelation that he may not be leading the life he wants to lead after being fired for the cab confrontation and subsequently filed lawsuits. His friend, Larry the Lawyer (Scott Zimmerman), helps to get his deferred bonus back from his former employer and to fight the criminal charges filed by the District Attorney on behalf of the cabbie. The whole of the banker's life and circumstances feel pretty well-researched. The banker and his wife, Claire (Sarah Sanders) are both high performers who struggle to cope with the potential of not being able to work after the negative press from the cab confrontation affects both their lives and their social circles. They also come to terms with some of the factors that have plagued their relationship over the years. For example, why wasn't she at the charity social event with her husband?

Omar, the Pakistani cabbie, is the other key character. He is pretty much a non-factor during the first act. However, he speaks in asides here and there about how tough it is to be a cabbie in New York. This isn't such a bad thing, but the out-of-place commentary is inserted and presented in an awkward manner. At some point, Omar comes to Rich's door to serve him papers and then Rich meets with him regularly in a random park at his own insistence? The conversations between these two are interesting and well-thought out despite the truly ridiculous and unrealistic circumstances. The dialogue does raise some serious questions about respecting each other, and yet also sometimes feels like a completely misguided view of what a Pakistani person might feel living in New York City. For example, do all Pakistani's think they are being associated with terrorists especially in New York City, which is fairly liberal? In some ways this over-simplification of characters allows us to address the issue at hand: the perception and social classes of the two characters. However, the play's characters are all very simple and while this allowed for the intended dialogue to take place, it kept the story going in circles toward the end until Sarah Sander's Claire ended it emphatically.

Far and away the acting carried the play, and while they all did a decent job, Scott Reeves as Rich and Hemang Sharma as Omar were stalwarts that displayed their talent by effectively delivering controversial dialogue. I think that without the strong acting, we would have stopped to think more about the strange circumstances of the plot. I felt like Sarah Sanders as Claire started out a little stiff. Without her settling down, I think the play would've suffered even more from the lack of cohesive direction toward the end. There were a lot of issues trying to be addressed by the plot at the same time, and she did a good job of pulling that all together with decisive monologue.

Ultimately, I think this play would have a lot of appeal to young people as it is relevant. However, it relies heavily on current events. While it addresses important subjects such as immigration, class, and relationships, it stated the obvious so much that it could star in a commercial as Captain Obvious. I think that presenting the same idea in a more subtle manner and with a single thesis would allow the play to develop in a manner that impressed upon us a particular idea rather than confronting us with a series of disjointed ideas. At times, I was uncomfortable and that was good, but often, it seemed a little overdone especially with Rich choosing to meet with Omar in the park. It doesn't make sense for either character to want to meet regularly. At least most of the jokes were pretty funny. With a little more development and patience, this same story could look slightly different and be able to communicate a clearer message.

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