Friday, March 2, 2018

Review of Haven Theatre's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. It was by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Eric Bentley, and directed by Josh Sobel. It was stories about people in Germany right before World War II, showing snippets of their lives. It was not called Happiness and Sunshine in the Third Reich, so it was depressing and heartbreaking, but it was beautifully acted and told some important stories in a compelling way. It is about fear, humanity, and resistance. I think it is really educational in an engaging way. All the stories are based in truth, and it shows you how important it is not to let fear take over because people use fear to get the destructive power that they want.

A really haunting and compelling scene was one where a husband (Niko Kourtis) and wife (Alexis Randolph) begin to fear that their son (Joe Bianco), who was a part of the Hitler Youth, was going to tell the group what his parents were saying. It was really eerie and depressing how scared they were of their own son. They had all these precautions, like a picture of Hitler, in their house to show that they were loyal. It is so heartbreaking how they are running around frantically imagining how their son could rat them out. There is a little bit of dark humor in this scene because of how many places they try before they find the perfect place for the Hitler picture. Then, after they have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, their son shows up with some chocolate because he has just been to the candy store, not to the Hitler Youth. But you don't actually know if he is telling the truth or not, which keeps the tension in the air. I think that this scene captures the fear and paranoia of many people living in the Third Reich.

One of my favorite scenes was when the Jewish wife (Alys Dickerson) of a German doctor (Bianco) was packing up and calling people on the phone to say she was leaving town. And she had these moments when she would pick up the phone and become a whole new person. She was so falsely cheery and high-pitched when she was talking to some of the people; but there was one person, who she was asking to take care of her husband, who she sounded more genuine with. The difference between these two types of phone calls was so drastic, it showed you how she wasn't this comfortable with everyone. And the contrast was so eerie because it really shows how in this time of the demonization of Jewish people in Germany, she had to be so careful about what she said and how she acted in front of people. There is a lot of silence in this scene, which I think is very effective; it shows her thought process. I think the actor in this scene did a great job of keeping the silence interesting by showing the way she felt throughout the scene. She buried her head in the suitcase, and it was such a moving moment because she was taking comfort in a reminder of her problems because she had nothing else to give her comfort. Before her husband comes home, she rehearses what she is going to say to him and also imagines his responses. When he comes home, he does a lot of the things she was scared he would do, like giving her her fur coat because he knows she is not coming back for a very long time, even though he is saying he'll see her soon. That is insanely heartbreaking to me.

The interviews of the factory workers seemed so manufactured, like everyone was struggling to give the right answers. They all seem to be afraid of the consequences of saying the wrong thing, which could be anything from losing their jobs to being sent to a camp. One worker (Elizabeth Dowling) was stuttering and clearly terrified and was checking to see if everyone thought she was saying the right thing. But this play shows you how that fear can happen anywhere, not just when you are being interviewed on the radio. There is a scene near the beginning of the play where a German officer (Siddhartha Rajan) is having a beer with his sweetheart (Dickerson) and explaining to another person (Jessica Dean Turner)--who has come to visit her sibling, the cook (Kyla Norton)--how he marks people with white chalk if he thinks they are "troublemakers." The sweetheart and the cook are trying to play it off like it is normal, but it is disturbing because the officer is being so aggressive and weird with the cook's sister. And at the end he has managed to mark the sibling without anyone noticing, which is a terrifying ending. And the cook and sweetheart tell the sibling she needs to go because she might actually be marked. They can't tell if the officer is serious or not. Another scene shows that this fear of saying the wrong thing can even happen to you if you are judge (Amanda de la Guardia). When the judge is asked to preside at a trial for a man who runs a store and was beaten up by SS officers, he keeps trying to find out from his wife (Randolph), his secretary (Dickerson), a lawyer (Rajan), and the investigator of the case (Simon Hedger), who is his closest ally, what is the safest thing to do. But there isn't a way to make everyone happy. He doesn't know what route to go to guarantee his survival.

People who would like this show are people who like uncertain judges, heartbreaking fur coats, and paranoia chocolate. I think that people should definitely go see this show. This is a brutal and fascinating show with some amazing performances. I really liked it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

1 comment:

Dave Sarks said...

I love Brecht. In fact I have the book sitting on my self, and your review has spurred me on to read it sooner rather than later. You certainly have seen your fair share of plays, and some of them seem to be pretty challenging as well.