One gargantuan undertaking. That’s what this is. We spent 20 hours in tech over two full days and have 6 more scenes left – including both an elaborate aerial bombardment scene where bombs drop, leaflets fail to drop, and passersby utter ghostly reveries that send our protagonist, Kurt Gerstein, into a mad frenzy as he believes he sees his murdered sister-in-law, Bertha walking amid the ruins only to be screamed at by the familiar looking stranger, all the while bombs raining down on the city street. Should be a breeze to tech that.
And then, of course, there’s Auschwitz.
We’ve never done a concentration camp on our stage before. In EITHER OR we’re asked to do two; Belzec first and then a view atop the gas chambers at Auschwitz. We’ll spend all of two minutes of stage time there. Here’s the stunning scene in its entire brevity, a highly selective excerpt from Tom Keneally’s script: keep reading
(The racket of trains crossing points in darkness. Darkness gives way to a glaring summer light. Kurt and Pfannenstiel stand atop an Auschwitz killing chamber. An NCO, gauntleted and wearinga gas mask, crosses the roof and opens a shute into which he empties a small can of Zyklon B grains. We can hear voices, stylised or otherwise, as if from beneath the actors’ feet. The SS NCO closes the vent. He removes his mask.)
Choke on that, my friends.
(Kurt and Pfannenstiel remain still. The NCO saunters off. Pfannenstiel may trim his nails on engage in a similar banal activity. Whereas Kurt’s stillness is monumental. Sound reaches a crescendo and cuts off. Pfannenstiel casually pats Kurt’s shoulder, as if to applaud him for the briskness with which destruction has been delivered.)
Did you hear the latest, Kurt. As a result of his conversation with you, Günter has worked out a new way of dealing with Jewish children. He soaks a tampon with Zyklon B and has it held successively to their noses. They go out one by one. Quite painlessly, too.
Jewish Sondercommando! Clear the chamber!
(Pfannenstiel looks at his watch again. Kurt is frozen. Pfannenstiel makes a last attempt to get Kurt to move. Fails. Pfannenstiel exits. Kurt remains…)
…Shall we allow ourselves to say the obvious?
That this is extremely risky theater.
And potentially quite devastating.
We begin previews on Wednesday. Our first full run through and subsequent final dress rehearsal won’t come until Tuesday. So we’re cutting it down to the wire.
Again. Risky and devastating. And potentially quite moving too.