Chutzpah!, Touchstone Theatre, Firehall Arts Centre & Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad
East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch

Dates and Venue 18 - 28 February 2009 at 8pm & various 2pm & 4pm matinees | Firehall Arts Centre

Director Alisa Palmer

Reviewer Christian Steckler

Going to live theatre and not sitting through a “play” is a rare and wonderful experience. So often, characters are “acted” with contrived moves and too clever language, in sets and lighting that may or may not work.

Under Alisa Palmer’s direction, Tarragon’s production of East of Berlin is one such rare and wonderful experience. From the opening moment Brendan Gall as Rudi totally engages us with his natural tones and language. Gall’s delivery masterfully communicates Rudi’s struggle to understand and overcome shame and guilt, and move forward with his personal life. His sometimes high-strung performance credibly captures the torment of being stuck in an emotional and cognitive vortex.

When we are introduced to Hermann, played by Paul Dunn, the contrast in characters is remarkable. Dunn’s portrayal of a dry-humoured, more self-controlled and cynical Hermann is a great foil for Rudi’s character. Hermann’s personal landscape is gradually revealed in Dunn’s wonderfully subtle, self-restrained performance.

Diana Donnelly was Sarah - she didn’t play Sarah, nor took the role of Sarah - she was Sarah. Her performance was so genuine, so true-to-life, that we could have as easily been witnessing the confusion and dilemmas of our own acquaintances.

The evening could not have been so engaging without the effective technical aspects of set, light and sound. Camellia Koo’s sets and costumes helped to set the natural tone of the performance. The library/study set was superb in its efficiency, and in keeping us rooted in the here-and-now of Rudi’s moment. Michael Walton and Gavin McDonald’s skill with light and shadow worked well to heighten mood and emotion, especially with the ceiling fan. John Gzowski’s music and sound helped in the smooth transition between scenes and settings, and set an almost subliminal emotional backdrop to many of the scenes.

East of Berlin is a fine play, fresh and thought-provoking. Hannah Moscovitch’s writing is superb in its smooth and natural style; and she takes us into new intellectual territory. I doubt if any of us had ever considered the consequences of the Holocaust on the children of the perpetrators other than, perhaps, on a sociological level of collective guilt. The exploration of the psychological consequences for children of both sides of the Holocaust is, indeed, a new and daunting challenge. Moscovitch meets the challenge with a fine balance of taste, tolerance and surprise.

© 2009 Christian Steckler