Monday, May 19, 2014

Theater Review - Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Lebensraum" by Israel Horovitz at The Factory Theatre

Happy Medium Theatre continues to present intriguing choices for the plays they produce at The Factory Theatre.  Those plays usually both delight and challenge audiences to think and to feel in new ways about familiar topics. The current production "LEBENSRAUM" by Israel Horovitz is no exception  Horovitz is a local Boston area treasure and a prolific playwright with a global reputation.  His plays always have a strong sense of place, anchoring the action and the characters in unique locations that themselves become an important part of the narrative.  In this case, the primary location is Bremerhaven, Germany a ship-building port city on the North Sea.   The secondary location is Gloucester, Massachusetts, the North Shore city from which an unlikely family of emigrants debarks for Germany.

The shocking premise of the play is that on the brink of the 21st Century, a new Chancellor in German announces an invitation for 6 million Jews to return home to Germany, where they will be offered full citizenship.  Horovitz has written often of themes that involve the Holocaust and its aftermath.  In this play, he artfully portrays a broad spectrum of reactions to this hypothetical invitation.  He manages to put himself inside the minds of 40 different characters - from Holocaust survivors to German neo-Nazis who are ready to fight to the death to prevent a reintroduction of a Jewish community in the newly re-unified  Germany.  The result is a very balanced portrayal of what could happen were such an invitation to be issued for Jews to return to Germany.

This play, directed by Brett Marks, is very much an actor-driven story.  The 40 characters are played by 3 very skilled actors.  R. Nelson Lacey, Audrey Lynn Sylvia and Michael Underhill do a very effective job of creating separate and differentiated characters, each with their own unique speech pattern and physical presence.  Credit must be shared with Dialect Coach Charles Linshaw for helping these actors to master a broad range of dialects and speaking styles.

Michael Underhill, Audrey Lynn Sylvia and /R. Nelson Lacey
The play is moving at an emotional level and thought-provoking at an intellectual level.  Horovitz dives deeply into explorations of questions that have no easy answers.  How can one forgive in the wake of such a travesty as the Holocaust?  How can one trust the professed positive intentions of a nation that in the past has shown a track record of hostility and genocide?  Should I be expected to make retribution for acts committed by my parents and grandparents?  Who is a Jew?

Over the past weekend, Mr. Horovitz attended a performance of this production and pronounced his blessing on the fine work being done by this team of actors and their crew.  This vote of affirmation alone should be enough to prompt you to put this play on your calendar for the coming week.  It will run through May 24.



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