Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Berlin Dig by John Stuercke

By Joe Straw

The Berlin Dig by John Stuercke

Born in Germany, and living there as small children, my brother and I played among the piles of bricks scattered through the city. The piles were like large anthills that littered the landscape.  

It was years later that I came to a realization those piles were the result of The War thirteen years earlier.  It’s funny how the mind absorbs those pictures with the passing of time.

The Berlin Dig produced, directed, and written by John Stuercke and playing at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood is a play that one thinks about long after one sees it. It’s like visiting a memory and being captivated by those recollections later.

If one swings left, one will have a good time with this production.  If one swings right, grab one of the shovels hanging on the wall and dig deep, step in, and bury yourself up to your ears because listening to these truths may be the source of extreme pain.  Nevertheless, all of the dialogue has the makings of some very fine theatre.

The black box stage is bare with the exception of four chairs, a couple of small tables, and a glass of Riesling wine in a large white wine glass. And one gets the feeling; this is a play about human expressions and the indictments about to be displayed. 

Placed on the back wall are the shovels which we later learn are symbols of human atrocities, the 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, the 17 million Russians who died at the hands of Stalin, the emaciated bodies of the remaining Jews left in the concentration camps and the disasters of situations in the Middle east.  

A man, Deiter (Roy Allen), sits alone with his thoughts, washed away in misery and sliding deeper from drink, the wine either the source of his enlightenment or a fractional diversion from the sadness that is the passing of his 83-year old mother. A glass of wine is a solemn comfort but still his misery abides.   

“I’m all alone. I suffer.” – Deiter

Spoken like a true German.  In fact Germans like doing three things.  Suffering is on the top of their list, drinking is second and having spirited conversations is third.

Dieter’s friends, Peter (Irwin Moskowitz) and Rolf (Markus Obermeier), arrive to offer their condolences to the passing of this dear sweet remarkable woman, his mother, 10 years after the death of his equally remarkable father both who were not sympathetic to the Nazis cause.  His friends looked up to the family and they are concerned about Deiter who is on the verge of the unthinkable.

“Euthanasia seems like the most logical answer.”- Dieter

But, before he kills himself, Dieter offers them a drink because drink and heated conversation is the cornerstone of a German life.  Death or no death, their arranged meeting is routinized and something of a men’s group: a therapy that cannot be ignored.

"There’s a point where no one wants to hear from a German."  - Deiter

Still, they are all German. Dieter and Peter are like-minded; Rolf has a more conservative approach to life.  Although each was born in 1945, Rolf seems younger in his views. And he speaks of German pride, excellent engineering, and keeping the blood pure kind of talk.  No foreigners are allowed his country, kind of talk, especially the Turks.

But there is someone missing from this group.  It is Dieter's best friend, Ali (Adam Shahinian) who happens to be a Turk.  Ali arrives late saying he had work to do in the restaurant and could not get away.  As part of German life, this seems to be bad form. Ali feels Rolf unnerving hostility but tries to ignore it.

"Now I know they were not my family." -  Dieter

Dieter finds himself alone and miserable again.  The source of his misery this time is the official documents he holds in his hands. From these documents Deiter is shocked to learn a secret about himself: that he is adopted and the son of a Nazis storm trooper and for the time being holds this information from his friends.

But as a German writer, respected and known for fictional historical novels, he finds his fathers relatives, now living in the United States. Dieter tells his friends that his young cousin is coming for a visit.  His name is Robert (Brett Fleisher) and he is from Newport Beach, California. 

"How does a God fearing man defend slavery?" - Rolf 

When the American cousin, Robert, gets there his “German friends” leave no disastrous American policy stone unturned.  They all get into a heated conversation before going out to dinner and really getting plastered.

This play is something one has to experience to get the true feelings of this theatrical experience.  One could sit and mull over the dialogue many times, can agree or disagree, love or hate the dialogue, but ultimately one realizes that these things need to be brought out into the open.  Like an Egyptian one needs to jump into the light, and take corrective measures whenever necessary.

This play may not change lives.  It may not make a dramatic difference to your ideology but demands to be seen.  One must acknowledge past events for history not to repeat itself.

Allen as Deiter plays this writer as humble being.  Complete with understanding everyone’s perspective whether he likes it or not.  He is rail thin and perfect casting for someone who is looking for a mad German scientist. Still, there should be more in his character to indicate that he is a renowned German writer. 

Moskowitz as Peter has a lot of things going for him.  His lost lines are the source of a risible characterization but he remains still, holding a glass, and in the moment.  At times one is concerned because it looks as though he's having a heart attack on stage. Although on this particular night, fraught with missed cues and dropped lines, the other actors jumped in to cue him with “Tell him about the…”

Obermeier as Peter probably should have played his age rather then trying to be someone older, a lot older.  The makeup doesn’t work but his relationships worked on stage with Peter, Deiter and Ali.  Deiter can have younger friends and it wouldn’t hurt this production in the least.

Shaninian as Ali has an interesting role in this.  Not only is he one of the friends but he also informs the audience about historical atrocities through countless generations with the inclusions of current events.  The shovels are a source of speculation:  Is he unearthing and bringing to life, or is he burying history?  

Fleisher as Robert comes off as an arrogant Newport Beach know it all who in fact listens to only one person, himself.  It is a nice role but I’m not sure he learned anything hanging out with his liberal cousin or if he did it was very subtle. 

One could argue that each character needs to go through a catharsis to really give this piece the dramatic impact it needs, or the actors need to tighten the moments (remember their lines) to give focus to their objectives.

"Germans live to work, the French work to live."- Peter

The focus on The Berlin Dig should be on remembering and then burying or perhaps like an anthropologist, digging out and revealing a truth.   In fact bringing the shovels from off stage and then giving them a dramatic placement on the stage would make the moments more dramatic and give it the power it deserves!

Daedal director, writer, and producer, Paul Stuercke has written a script enjoyable from beginning to end.  It re-emphasizes a lot of miscues in world history and gives us information the main stream media would not dare touch.  This play indicts a lot of players on the world stage.  Could this play be a call to action?  Will indictments for war crimes follow?

Eventually, there will come a time when each of us will take action in pursuit of justice and call out the line from Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. 

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” - Howard Beale

Go see this production for your own sanity.

February 4th through March 6th, 2011

El Centro Theatre
804 North El Centro Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 230-7261

No comments:

Post a Comment