Directed by Ronan Marra
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, Chicago
Terrific new voice from Canada erupts into two outstanding works
Ronan Marra found and expertly directs Canadian Hannah Moscovitch’s two one-acts: East of Berlin and The Russian Play. I can’t remember when I’ve witness such a riveting and fully engrossing new works!
In East of Berlin (a fully developed 90 minute one-act), we meet, Rudi (Billy Fenderson in a tour de force performance), a 20something man standing outside his father’s study in Paraguay. It’s 1969 and Rudi talks directly to the audience as he works up the courage to to enter his father’s study.
Rudi take us back in time to explain to us why he is so nervous. Rudi was born in 1945 in Germany to a doctor serving in the German armed forces. The doctor fled to Paraguay after the war to start a new life in South America. Rudi grows up in a German neighborhood in Paraguay, attends a German school and he associates with other sons/daughters of German immigrants. He does speak Spanish but German is his main language.
Rudi is a shy, inquisitive yet naive young man who is strongly impressed by the stature and organized lifestyle of his father. When, at age 17, his friend and classmate Hermann (Tom McGrath) tells him and shows him a book about WWII and the German’s involvement in the Holocaust, Rudi staunchly denies that his father could be involved until Hermann shows him a photo of his father at Auschwitz in a Nazi uniform with other famous war criminals.
Rudi’s world is shattered with the knowledge that his father is a war criminal. When Rudi confronts his father, the doctor tries to justify his action like so many be saying: “You just don’t understand how things were then…”
After several long arguments and a fist-fight with his father, Rudi leave home and travels to West Berlin. He is searching for personal identify, redemption and a release from guilt. While in Berlin, he studies war records and he learns about the horrible experiments his father and other doctors did on live Jews. Along the way, Rudi meets an American Jewish girl, Sarah (the talented Melanie Keller) who is also looking for information about her mother’s time in the camps.
Rudi and Sarah become an item as both struggle with the guilt of what happened to each’s family during the war. Rudi never tells Sarah about his father since he grows to love her and he fears that information will drive her away. Complications arise between the two.
Much of the last part of this riveting drama takes us through Rudi’s mindset as he struggles with the dilemmas presented to him by his heritage. The plotting, the characterizations and the acting make East of Berlin a superb look at how the sins of the father can overwhelm the son. Billy Fenderson was amazingly honest.
In The Russian Play, Hannah Moscovith shows her witty, whimsical, and sardonic side as she tells the story of Sonya (Melanie Keller in a richly accurate Russian accent), a girl who falls in love with a gravedigger, Piott (Tom McGrath) yet in order to survive in the bleak austere rural Russia, she has an affair with Kostya (Billy Fenderson) – a local Russian bureaucrat. Utilizing the violin talents of Allison Cook as underscoring, The Russian Play emerges as an ode to the bittersweet Communist Russia life. Melanie Keller is terrific as the spunky Russian girl.
A fresh new sophisticate voice from Canada and the talents of the always reliable Signal Ensemble make for a powerfully moving evening of theatre. Be sure to catch these two gems.
Talk Theatre in Chicagopodcast
Date Reviewed: October 22, 2011
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Bernice, Chicago, IL, call 773-698-7389, tickets $20, $15 for seniors/students/industry/groups, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through November 13, 2011