A Great Talk – The 4th Week – Worrying About the End

Feeling great about the presentation Tom made yesterday at Washington Hebrew Congregation. Keneally is one of a kind; one of our most valuable authors whose voracious appetite for retellings of history from wholly originally vantage points makes him such a unique, readable, essential author and such an enthusiastic, entertaining, captivating speaker. Touching on so many aspects of his career, of course, can make for a sprawling affair, and so my job yesterday, much like during all this preproduction work over the last year, was of being an editor; keeping Tom on track, forcing him back to a point and then prodding him forward, all the while, Tom talking with extraordinary authority and a novelists flair for detail about so many intertwined topics. It really was a thrilling 90 minute discussion to be a part of. And much of that time was spent on the Gerstein-Schindler connection.

Today, we’re back in rehearsals, and while Dan is going over Act I work with the actors, I’m focusing my conversations with Tom on the last 4 scenes of the play. They’re short ones, but critical. The main focus must be the point that our play is trying to make about the meaning of Gerstein’s life; his ambiguous record as a witness and whistle-blower and what to make of it all as he moves from Auschwitz, to an outdoor aerial bombardment waiting for the leaflets to fall (they don’t); to a hospital scene with his father and then a leave-taking from his wife, Friedl, as he is compelled to turn himself in to the Allies. My discovery from this morning is to grab hold of the play’s through line of Duty. Duty is what our Golden Boy Kurt has been raised on. How to best serve the state and the church; that was his Act I dilemma. My discovery to share with Tom and director Dan today is this: After Auschwitz and his hospitalization, Kurt wrestles with another duty; to turn himself in, indicting himself and wanting to exact on himself the ultimate punishment for his ineffectuality – or to turn himself in for the purpose of telling the tale and staying alive as a witness; a spokesman for the dead children whom he was instrumental in exterminating.
In the last scene with his wife, the question is raised: Dare Kurt face his own children? Can he? What’s Kurt’s ultimate duty, after Auschwitz?

This is the right question for the play to be asking by the last scenes.
I think we’re on the verge of nailing the right ending.
I’m sure we all certainly hope so. Time’s a ticking.