Monday, February 25, 2013

Episode Ten

              General Strassel Has Returned!

How can this be?  We saw him shot by Wachter, declared to be dead, and his lifeless body carried into another room. Let’s see if this mystery can be solved.  But first, to maintain continuity, let’s play back the last lines of Episode Nine—

Wachter: If he had shown a little mercy and gone away without Lusia and Genia, he’d still be alive.

Sharon: [Screams; points in terror] He is alive . . . alive!

   All turn to see the figure of Strassel standing in the doorway of the room into which he was carried.

Now, let’s continue with the play--

Strassel:   Achtung! So you thought you could dispose of me so easily.

  All are terrified by this apparition. Wachter takes a step toward Strassel, hand outstretched.

Wachter:   You . . . you!  [He is about to fall and is caught by Itzhak and the Rabbi.]

Maury:  [In the uniform of Strassel, leaps forward] Herr Wachter!  It is I, Maury. Not Strassel! Not Strassel!

Itzhak:    It’s Maury! Maury, you bulvan![i]

Rabbi: You might have killed him!

Dolek:  Then where would we be!

Maury:   Forgive me, Herr Wachter. I don’t know what got into me.

Itzhak:   That’s easy to answer: you’re an actor, a ham actor.

Wachter:  [Clutches his chest, then gasps out a laugh] Maury, you really fooled me!

Maury:   Forgive me?

Wachter:  Of course.

   A pause, as all stand staring at Maury as Strassel.

Itzhak:   I’d swear it was Strassel.

Rabbi:  It’s uncanny.

Maury:   I really had to hurry to get made up and this uniform on.

Dolek:   Say something, Maury. . . something like a Nazi would say.

Maury:   I won’t scare anyone?

   All laugh, to a chorus of “go head’s” and “let’s hear it.”

Maury:   [Strutting, imitating Hitler] Achtung. Er bekämpft oft und shönunglos die gefahrlichstenFeinde des Staates: Juden, Freimaurer, Jesuiten! Politische Geislichkeit![ii] [He becomes Maury again.]

   All applaud softly.

Maury:   [Bowing]  Thank you. [pause.] Do you know what I am going to do now?

Itzhak:  Do?

Wachter:   I can guess, Maury.

Maury:   I go to lead the dogs away from the house of Herr Wachter.

Wachter:   It will be dangerous, Maury.  Do you think you can pull it off?  The Gestapo is pretty sharp.

Rabbi:  It’s our only chance.

Wachter:  Here, Maury, take this. [He picks up the pistol his hand trembles as he hands it to Maury.]

Maury:   Thank you, Her Wachter. [Wipes the pistol.]. Your fingerprints must not be found on this weapon.

Itzhak:  So while we were worrying about a dead body . . .

Rabbi:  . . . Maury was  dressing up as Strassel.

Feodor: Maury, the actor.

Rabbi:  Maury, the arranger.

Maury:  I will go where I will be seen.  Then General Heinrich Strassel, commander of the Schutzstaffen SS, will board a train headed for . . .for where?

Wachter:  Waldshut, a city next to the Swiss border.

Maury:  Waldshut . . . Thank you!  And on the train, I shall go to the lavatory, shed the shiny skin of the snake Strassel, scatter it out the window, and emerge as the shabby salesman, Jürgen Strub, whose clothes I wear underneath—Jürgen Strub, traveler in pots and pans, complete with my new name and necessary papers and money, thanks to Marek the forger.

Wachter:  The rail line may be cut by bombs.

Maury:  Then as General Strassel, I will commandeer transportation. 

Wachter:   When you get to Waldshut, go to the Brauerei Walter  cafe´.  Ask the headwaiter, Karl, for a table, and whether Hasenpfeffer is on the menu.  He will seat you in a booth near the back door.  You will be joined by a passeur who will get you across the border into Switzerland. 

Maury:   “Ask Karl", and,  “is Hasenpfeffer on the menu”—yes, I’ll remember. Thank you Herr Wachter! Your protecting arm extends even to Switzerland.

Wachter:  While you are here in the city, Maury, don’t go near Gestapo headquarters. If they get the least hint something is wrong . . .

Maury:   Hey! Trust me! And don’t look so unhappy, everyone.  This will be the greatest role of my career as an actor.  Of course, there will be no audience to applaud, so no one will know.

Rabbi:  We’ll know, Maury. [He begins quiet applause.  All join in.]

Maury: Thank you!  Thank you. [He struts to the door like General Strassel, opens the door, turns, and raises his arm in the Nazi salute.] Sieg Heil!  [The salute drops to a small wave of the hand as  he says, quietly] Goodbye, my friends.

Rabbi:  May the God of Abraham go with you and protect you.

Maury:  I would appreciate his company.

   Maury exits. The stage lights dim out and rise again to indicate a lapse of time. Itzhak is pacing the floor.

Itzhak:  God, I hate waiting like this. Did he get away or not? We should have heard by now.

Rabbi:  Be patient, Itzhak. Maury—or should we call him Strassel, has been gone three hours. Herr Wachter has been following him. He will come soon and tell us how he made out.

   Violent quarreling is heard offstage.  It is Dolek and Sharon.

Itzhak:  Listen to that, will you!

Rabbi: I have talked to them, seriously.  Sharon, I said, it is not right to quarrel with your husband.  To Dolek, I’ve said that and much more.

Itzhak:   It gets on my nerves.

Rabbi:  On the nerves of all of us.

   A quiet knock is heard at the front door. 

Rabbi: [Calling] Mrs. Winkelman!

The Rabbi and Itzhak exit quickly as Mrs. Winkelman enters, looks through the peep-hole, and opens the door.

Mrs. Winkelman:  Herr Wachter! Good afternoon.

WACHTER: Hello, Marie. [Mrs. Winkelman closes door.]  Itzhak, Rabbi—all of you. [They hurry in, along with Feodor and Marek.] Maury didn’t exactly go into Gestapo headquarters , but made sure they saw him in the street. No one doubted that Maury was General Strassel. [Mrs. Winkelman exits with a gesture of relief.]

RABBI: He didn’t overdo it—didn’t over act?

WACHTER: Oh, yes. Once or twice.

ITZHAK:  Actors! Once on stage they’re hard to get off.

WACHTER: When he was well noticed, he took a cab to the railway station and boarded a train.

RABBI: What a relief!

WACHTER: We needn’t have worried, my friends.  I heard that General Heinrich Strassel was such a terror even to his staff, that no one would dare to question him, no matter how strangely he behaved.

ITZHAK:  Maury should be at the Swiss border in about three hours.

RABBI:  Maury the Arranger will make it over the border for sure.

WACHTER:  He will be missed.

   Offstage, quarreling voices are heard.

WACHTER: Sharon and Dolek—again?

ITZHAK: All afternoon, constant.

   Dolek enters, in a rage.

WACHTER:   Dolek, I know you are under pressure—we all are.

RABBI: It’s bad for morale, Dolek, very bad.

DOLEK:  Don’t concern yourselves.  There will be no more quarrels. I’m leaving.

ALL: Leaving!

WACHTER: Leaving?

 RABBI:  But, why?

DOLEK: Because I must.

ITZHAK:  Take your papers and money, Dolek.  Head for the Swiss border, like Maury.

DOLEK: No papers. I won’t need them where I’m going.  I’m going out there and be myself. I’m going to face them, declare myself. 

ITZHAK:  But the Gestapo will pick you up!   They will make you talk. You’ll give us away.

DOLEK:  No, I won’t. I have a good story cooked up.  I’m going—going right now. [Moves toward door.]

RABBI: But Dolek, you can’t leave Sharon like this.

DOLEK:  Can’t I?  Watch me. 

RABBI:  No, Dolek!

DOLEK: She doesn’t give a damn about me. It will be good riddance for her.

RABBI: She loves you . . . she told me so.

DOLEK:  Love like that I can do without.  I’m going.  [Moves to door]  Goodbye.  Thank you, Herr Wachter for taking us in.

WACHTER:  Wait, Dolek! Consider carefully.  The war will soon be over.  The Allied armies are near.

DOLEK:  Too late for me.

WACHTER:  Do you know what you’re going up against?

DOLEK:  I know.

WACHTER: The SS may kill you right in the street.

DOLEK:  Let them do their worst.

ITZHAK:  They will.

DOLEK: I’m a man, and will face it like a man. I will declare myself,  “Here I am, a Jew, Dolek Mirapol!”

   He opens the door and exits as they murmur goodbyes.  There is a moment  of silence.

RABBI:  Did you see what was sticking out of his coat?

WACHTER:  Something yellow.

RABBI: The rest of that bit of yellow is the Star of David—the badge of the Jews.

WACHTER:  Why is he carrying that?

RABBI:  He said it—he was going to declare himself: I am a Jew!

WACHTER: Leiber Gott!  He won’t give us away, will he?

ITZHAK:  Not Dolek.  I’ve gotten to know him.  He is made of iron.

WACHTER:  Iron he’ll need.

   The light begins to fade. The Rabbi goes to the window, pulls aside the drapes and looks out.  The sound of bombs is heard in the distance.

RABBI:  It is near evening.  The evening of the Sabbath. 

   The bombing becomes louder.

ITZHAK:  An evening of bombs.

                                    End of Episode Ten

Dolek has left the safety of Wachter’s refuge.  Where will he go?  And what will become of Sharon, the wife he really loves, but from whom he now seems estranged? We’ll find out in Episode Eleven, in a scene which has  now been recognized as a separate play in itself. Episode Eleven is scheduled for publication on Monday, March 4.

Many did what Dolek intends—to be a Jew who defies the Nazis and their thugs and torturers, and declare themselves to be Jews and proud of it, no matter how horrible their fate might be.

   Above is shown an heroic Jewish resistance fighter flushed from his hiding place during the battle of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Now we look forward Interval Ten which will be published on Monday March 4. The topic will be What if Hitler had won the war? He could have, you know.  He was very close to victory.                                                            

[i] Bulvan: boobie, fool
[ii] Hitler’s speech: Warning (caution),  he often mercilessly combatted the most dangerous enemies of the state: the Jews, the Freemasons, The Jesuits! Political  Spirituality!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Interval Nine - More Theater

In Interval Seven we touched on the continuing importance of live theatre, and discussed the play Tosca’s Kiss performed at The Orange Tree Theatre in May of 2006.

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London

We thought it might be interesting to discuss other plays written about the Holocaust.  Of course we have already discussed Good by C.P. Taylor, as it was turned into a film (see Interval Two).  Whilst Good is a wonderful film, I think it must have been an even better piece of theatre.

There is nothing like watching a play – the immediacy, the intimacy, the engagement with the actors on stage.  In a venue like The Orange Tree, which is a small but perfectly formed theatre in the round with 172 seats, you could be mere feet away from the actors.

the auditorium of the Orange Tree Theatre

But even the larger theatres in London’s West End are so designed as to make you feel you are “part of the action”.  They were so well crafted in the Victorian Age, when they so loved their theatre, that there is almost no bad seat in the house.  Many Broadway theatres, and other hotspots for fantastic theatre like Chicago, are modelled on these wonderful Victorian entertainment palaces.  Of course back then, you could go to the theatre at 6 o’clock, watch an act here and there from some Shakespeare play, then the main event (and believe me, they are better than you think!), then a few after scenes, and leave the theatre at midnight, having had an amazing evening’s entertainment!

The actors, too, give a different kind of performance in a theatre.  The mood and engagement of the audience can lift an actor’s performance to a different level than you will ever see on film.

Theatre remains, and always will remain a hugely important medium of entertainment, and education.  So let’s look at a few examples of other Holocaust plays.

Of course, Anne Frank’s Diary has been adapted many times for stage and screen.  It is of course such an engaging story that many, many people have read and appreciated it, and can connect with the poignancy of the wonderful writing.

You would be surprised by some of the plays that come up when you do a Wikipedia search, so let’s explore a few of these.  There is an opera called The Child Dreams by Gil Shohat, which was commissioned by the Israeli Opera for its 25th anniversary season.  This is an ethereal, dream-like opera that is resonant with themes about the Holocaust, although its author denies it is explicitly about the Holocaust.

A very early play, 1933, was written by Friedrich Wolf called Professor Mamlock.  This portrays the hardships a Jewish doctor named Hans Mamlock experiences under the Hitler regime, and is one of the earliest works dealing with Nazi anti-Semitism.

Another play was written by the award-winning Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga in 2004, Way to Heaven.  The play is about a notorious incident in 1944 in which a delegation from the International Red Cross visited the Theresienstadt concentration camp and were duped by the Nazi camp officials into reporting to the world that conditions were good and that they saw no evidence to support reports of mass murder.

These are the few plays that deal directly with the actualities of the Holocaust.  There are several other plays dealing with individuals directly involved with the Holocaust, or the Nazi regime.

You may know the playwright David Edgar as the man who adapted Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which became a worldwide phenomenon.  But Edgar was a playwright long before the phenomenal success of the much beloved Nickleby.  If you are interested in reading about his earlier plays, some of which targeted the emerging National Front party in the UK (quite scary) please follow the link (David Edgar plays).  In 2000 he wrote a play about Albert Speer which was produced by the Royal National Theatre, and starred Alex Jennings.

My research ends here.  There are a few more links on the Wikipedia page about plays which don’t really address the subject as they should, worthy as they may be. To my mind, there is a paucity of plays about the Holocaust.   And what exists, should be played over and over, and then over again.  Theatre is such an amazing medium that any play written about the horrors of this time must be replayed time and time again.  Yes, there are films, thankfully.  But we must use every medium.  And we must speak of it as much as we can.

Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago

If you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them.  Anything that addresses the Holocaust is a good thing.  We hope you think our play is a good thing, too.


Next week we will have the next instalment of A Ball for Genia to be published on Monday 25th February.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Episode Nine

                     Wachter Strikes Back

  Si vis pacem, para bellum . . . if you wish for peace, prepare for war.[i]

General Strassel announces that Wachter’s argument has failed, and that he will now take Lusia and Genia and send them to Auschwitz and sure death. 

To maintain continuity, the last few lines of the debate are repeated here.

Strassel: Call those Jews out here!

Wachter: Heinrich, I beg you . . . let them stay.  I ask as an old friend.

Strassel: You are in no position to say no!

Now, on with the play—

Strassel:  [He puts on his cap.] I command you!  Call them out here!

Wachter:  No! 

Strassel: [Reaching for his pistol.]  Albert: I repeat:  you are in no position to say no. Call them out here!


Wachter: [He pauses,  then says] I will, Heinrich. [Another pause] Come out my friends—all of you!

All the occupants of the house emerge from the doors and stand in silence.  Dolek, Itzhak and Feodor edge themselves behind Strassel, who is facing Wachter.

Strassel: Gott in Himmel! You’ve got a whole rat’s nest of ‘em!

Strassel draws his pistol.  Dolek, Itzhak and Feodor seize him, wrest his pistol away.  It falls at the feet of Wachter, who picks it up.

Itzhak:     I know this one. He was in command at Auschwitz. They called him the mad dog!

Strassel:  I don’t know you!

Itzhak:     I know you. You killed hundreds with that gun—just for sport!

There is a silence as those who have entered stare at Strassel with a hatred that is almost tangible.  They point toward him and begin a low wailing cry with ever-increasing volume of sorrow, of lamentation, of unutterable woe. It is a sound that might have come from millions of throats of the Jews forced naked into the gas chamber expecting a shower of warm water, and found instead a shower of deadly gas crystals.  Like a great organ, the sound swells in volume until it almost unbearable. 

Strassel:  [Shouting] I’ll call my troops . . .  I’ll kill you all. . .  you won’t get away with this! [The sound drives Strassel into a frenzy of rage and fear.] Stop! [He holds his ears as the sound reaches a crescendo, and turns rage on Wachter.] Verdamnt Jew-Kisser!

Wachter raises the pistol and  shoots Strassel. Strassel claps his hand to his forehead and silently slips to the floor. There is a moment of prolonged silence as they all stare at the body.  Then Itzhak kneels beside the body.

Wachter:  Is he . . . is he dead?

Itzhak:    He is dead. Shot in the forehead, and a nice, clean hole. You’re a real Jesse James with that pistol, Herr Wachter.  

Wachter: [Deeply shaken] We used to practice together.  I was the better shot.

Itzhak:     I believe it.

There is another silent pause, broken by the Rabbi.

Rabbi:  [His hands raised over Strassel.] Alav ha-sholem.

Dolek:   You are incorrigible, Rabbi.  Would God accept such a man?

Rabbi: Even so terrible a man has a soul. Words must be said for that soul.

Wachter:  You are right, Rabbi.  May God have mercy on your soul, Heinrich - my friend.

Dolek:   I say good riddance.

Rabbi:  the Holy One, blessed is He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked. 

Dolek:   More to the point, Rabbi; we’ve got a dead body here.

Feodor:  A dead Nazi.

Itzhak:     Not your ordinary  run-of-the mill Nazi, but the big cheese himself.

Dolek:   What are we going to do with it?

Wachter:  He won the debate. He was right. Might does make right. And I told him: thou shalt not kill, and I killed him. [Sets gun on table and covers his eyes.]

Dolek:  [Motions toward Wachter and his distress. He says quietly as he motions toward the body]  Let’s get this thing out of here. [To the others] Leave us, my friends. 

[All leave except Wachter, Lusia, and the Rabbi. Itzhak puts the cap over Strassel’s face, and Itzhak, Dolek, Feodor body and carry the body through a nearby door.]

Itzhak:     So little blood. Perhaps a machine.  

Dolek:   An evil demon for sure.

Mrs. Winkelman: [enters from kitchen.] I heard. Can I help?

Wachter:  See if anyone is in the street.  He did say he came alone.

Itzhak, Dolek and the Rabbi return

Rabbi:   What are we going to do?

Dolek:  The body’s no problem.  It can go in the cellar cemetery.

Rabbi:   Ach!—such an infidel among our sacred dead.

Itzhak:    That’s a minor problem.  What should concern us—did he come alone? 

Mrs Winkleman:   [Mrs. Winkelman has been looking  through the peep-hole] I see no one on the street  . . . no soldiers . . . no one waiting.

Dolek:    So he did come alone.

Wachter:   That’s like him.  He likes . . . liked to handle things on his own.

Sharon:  Then they won’t know he’s here!

Dolek:  [Snorts]  Listen to her, will you.  He’d leave word where he was going, wouldn’t he? Everyone at Gestapo headquarters must have seem him leave, especially carrying a little girl.

Sharon:  I can hope, can’t I.

Dolek:    Spare me your hope!

Rabbi:   After dark, let’s dump him somewhere . . . make it look like an accident, like he was run over by a car.

Dolek:    A hole in the head he’s got! Some accident.

Itzhak:    You’re right Dolek, they’ll look everywhere for him, especially in this neighborhood since he walked here. 

Sharon:   We’re going to die, all of us!

Dolek:    Shut up, for god’s sake.  Let us think!

Rabbi:   Be comforted, Sharon.  An hour of life is still life.

Itzhak:    Very comforting, Rabbi. But just what in hell are we going to do?

Wachter:   If he had just shown a little mercy and had gone away without Lusia and Genia, he’d still be alive.

Sharon:   [Screams, points in terror.] He is alive . . . alive! 

All turn to see the figure of Strassel standing in the doorway of the room into which he was carried.

                                   End of Episode Nine

Strassel alive? How can this be? Perhaps it’s a miracle. But the world seems fresh out of miracles.  And if we must have a miracle, surely the resurrection of General Strassel is not a desired one.  Episode Ten, which will appear on Monday, February 18,  may resolve the mystery.

In the meantime, be sure to view Interval Nine next week, which will discuss other plays about the Holocaust.  We have discussed some films, yes, but what about the theater?  The most immediate form of entertainment and engagement?  Much more needs to be explored on this topic.  Hopefully some of these plays are available for performance at your theater, if you have one, beyond, of course, the very important Diary of Anne Frank (and those are adaptations of a much revered biography, important as it is).  It is the dramatist who writes, from nothing, creating something, about the Holocaust, that we are looking for.  There are some dramatists who have felt compelled to write about this very important topic, and we should look at them, and recognize them.

We look forward to discussing with you.

[i] Si vis pacem, para bellum is a Latin phrase.  The Luger pistol used by Strassel was called the Parabellum Pistole.