“History is So Bloody Complicated”

Act Two is far more depressing to work on than Act One. The first act starts with a bright future, Germany reborn. It ends with the realization that the new Germany is in fact a frightening place, a place that falls short of moral ideals. Yet at the end of Act One there is still no clue how bad it will get. And now we work our way through Act Two and watch the horrors build up.

Last night PBS broadcast the documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State. The documentary is filled with first hand recollections and original photos and film clips. Many of the actors watched it and have been talking about how hard it is to realize that this is true. That it really happened. I have been unable to watch.

I know as the dramaturg I should look at the research purely as to how it relates to the play. I’ve never had a problem watching fictionalized accounts of the Holocaust. I get emotionally attached to the story line but I’m still able to separate it from my life. However, when I look at the photos, when I see the faces of survivors looking at the cameras, when I see the pictures of the dead piled in to dehumanized piles, I fall apart. Every face I see I wonder: Is that someone I would have known? Would that have been me? Is that a relative?

The terrors of the Holocaust are still raw for me. Two generations behind. My grandfather came to America from Poland in 1939. This family stayed behind, none survived. He lived having lost everyone. The rawness also comes from the realization that it could happen again, it is happening again.

That is the power of this story. The actors on stage are trying to turn off their knowledge of the horrors. As actors, an important part of their job is to understand their characters. As Dan said on the first day of rehearsal, none of the characters in this play are evil, they have to love their characters. They have to understand how a Nazi war criminal, such as Globocnik, could dispassionately watch the systematic killings. It’s dangerous to dehumanize the Nazi’s, to write them off as evil. They, as we are learning on stage, were people with families, with moral consciences, they are people like us, they are what we hope never to be yet still could become.

So, that’s my depressing post for the day. The mood in the room isn’t as low as this entry. Moral in rehearsal is high. And whenever we walk out of the theater on our little breaks we are confronted by the young kids in the pre-school running around, laughing. Besides, we have an entertaining team. I’ll try to make my next post all frivolity and gossip.