Drama Club is a new feature on Torontoist. Each week, we’ll take a look at what’s going on in Toronto’s theatre scene and try to figure out which shows are worth checking out.
Lots of theatres are known for staying dark in January; actors and lighting designers alike spend the month hibernating, nursing New Year’s hangovers, and brushing up on their Brecht. We kid! Even when the venue’s doors are shut, the city’s theatre professionals are all just as hard at work as everybody else. And this year, there are a bunch of plays opening the same week most of us are heading back to work. Tonight, the remount of Hannah Moscovitch‘s extremely popular East of Berlin (which we reviewed last year) opens at Tarragon. Meanwhile, over at Factory, the second annual Next Stage Theatre Festival kicks off with four of its eight plays.
East of Berlin tells the story of Rudi (played by the talented Brendan Gall), a young man growing up in Paraguay who has no idea his father used to be a Nazi doctor in concentration camps. When his close friend finally reveals the truth, he begins a journey to find out who he is (and how he can be different from his father) that takes him from Paraguay to Berlin and back again. The show, peppered with Moscovitch’s insightful and often cutting dialogue, was a huge hit when it played at Tarragon back in 2007, making it an obvious choice for the “Greatest Hits” package of remounts the theatre has included in its current season, which also featured Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched and the upcoming remount of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View.
Torontoist spoke with Hannah Moscovitch about East of Berlin, theatre, and why Nazis have become so fashionable lately. Keep reading after the jump for our interview and more theatre news.
Torontoist: Why do you think audiences have connected so well with this play?
Hannah Moscovitch: It’s hard to determine why a particular project connects to the audience. It’s mysterious. As the author I’m probably the least qualified person to answer this question because I’m not one of East of Berlin’s audience members. What I put onstage in East of Berlin is unusual; perhaps that’s it? I think there’s something perversely fascinating about this topic: the children of Nazis. I think it’s their proximity to evil. The Nazis proposed mass murder as a political solution, and then when they came to power, they legislated it. It’s hard to contest their evil; it’s in their theories and their practice, and they carried it out on such a grand scale. And the children of Nazis have to respond to these architects of genocide as parents. But how do you relate to a parent who, for the rest of the world, embodies evil? How do you reconcile your love for your parent with their identity as a mass murderer? Something about that question has a dark appeal for audiences, I think.
Obviously, East of Berlin has done very well for itself, and it shares some impressive company in Tarragon’s “Greatest Hits” package. Do you see any similarities or relationships between it and Scorched or A Beautiful View?
You know what? It hasn’t even occurred to me to feel flattered about being included in the Tarragon three hits package with Daniel MacIvor and Wajdi Mouawad. But now that you point it out, yes, it’s very flattering, isn’t it?! I greatly admire the work of both those playwrights. I’ve seen Scorched, but not A Beautiful View, so it’s hard for me to point to similarities between the three plays. Both East of Berlin and Scorched deal with the fallout of war and violence, although I doubt that this parallel explains the appeal of either play. It seems to me that the only similarity between the three plays is the obvious one: it lies in the audience’s interest in them.
Do you feel any differently about the play this time around? Has your idea about the story and the characters changed since the previous production and in what ways?
I don’t feel differently about the play or its characters, no. I have revised the script. I held off on publishing it because when it premiered I rewrote it up until the last minute. On opening night I felt as though I hadn’t wholly understood it and I hadn’t finished it yet. But my revisions don’t change the play, they only serve to make what was already there clearer. I made changes to the early scenes in the play between Rudi and Hermann, the two sons of Nazis. I wanted to make Hermann’s desires, his reason for being onstage, a little clearer to the audience. Also, this production is the same as the previous one – it’s a remount, not a new production. Maybe a different interpretation of the play would change my view of it?
The last few times we’ve been to the movies, about every single trailer played before the film had something to do with Nazis, WWII, the Holocaust, etc. Are Nazis “in” this season? Why are they such appealing subject matter for storytelling?
Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? I think it’s because the Holocaust is such an extreme event in human history. It’s impact on our era—our systems of thought, cultures, spiritualities—is massive, and so it attracts dramatic investigation. It’s telling that you ask if Nazis are in. I think that’s astute. There seems to be a growing interest in approaching these events from the perspective of the perpetrators, as in The Reader and Valkyrie (and the children of perpetrators in East of Berlin). I get the impression that up until recently, it was all we could handle to see the Holocaust through the eyes of the victims and survivors. That was horrific enough. Showing the gas chambers was enough. But now we’re ready to discuss the people who were manning the gas chambers. And that, to some small degree, accounts for the renewed interest in the topic.
I get a little anxious when East of Berlin is categorized as a Holocaust play because I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It’s not set during the Holocaust; it’s set in Paraguay and West Berlin in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s true to say it deals with the fallout of the Holocaust. It’s a coming of age story and a love story. It speaks about the relationship between identity and history and the legacy of genocide, as well as the guilt experienced by the children of Nazis. But I don’t deal with the Holocaust itself: I don’t show Nazis committing war crimes or Jewish bodies being burnt in ovens. It’s no Schindler’s List. When I first talked to Richard Rose, the artistic director at Tarragon, about the play, I pitched it as a comedy, believe it or not. I was wrong about that. But there is humour in it.
What plays are you looking forward to seeing this year?
Oh lots. Kristin Thompson’s The Patient Hour, Jonathan Garfinkle’s House of Many Tongues, Anton Piatigorsky’s Eternal Hydra, Soulpepper’s adaptation of Antigone by Evan Webber, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Don Juan (coming to Magnetic North in Ottawa). Maev Beaty and Erin Shields are working on a play about artist models—they workshop it at the Rhubarb Festival in February. MacIvor’s A Beautiful View, The Blue Dragon at NAC (Robert Lepage’s play). Lots.
East of Berlin has just been extended until February 8 due to popular demand.
Also Opening This Week
Only in its second year, the Next Stage Theatre Festival is already attracting some serious attention. A sort of wintery stepchild to the Fringe, the Next Stage draws its programming from eight companies who have previously performed at the summer festival. There’s even a heated beer tent! One show from last year’s festival had a successful off-Broadway remount; another was nominated for a number of Doras. Tonight, things start at 7:00 p.m. with a clown show called L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs. At 7:15 p.m., it’s incest comedy Don’t Look, directed by the talented Maya Rabinovitch (who directed one of our favourite shows at last summer’s Fringe). Then at 9:00 P.M., it’s First Hand Woman, which promises “spontaneous simulated orgasms,” if that’s your thing. Finally, at 9:15 p.m. it’s The Rake’s Progress: Do You Know Where Tom Rakewell Is?, a show that claims to be adapted from a Stravinsky opera and Hogarth engravings. Also at the festival are: Take it Back, a show that fuses Lindy Hop with breakdancing; Humans Anonymous, written by Kate Hewlett who wrote last Fringe’s fabulous The Swearing Jar; collective musical exploration Reesor; and Yichud/Seclusion, a new show by Torontoist favourite Convergence Theatre. Next Stage runs at Factory until January 18.
Them & Us opens tomorrow at Passe Muraille. The new show written by Tracy Dawson and directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones is a series of vignettes about the difficulties of male-female relationships and features Michael Healey and Sarah Dodd among its castmembers. It plays until January 31.
Bear With Me opens on Friday. The Nightwood production of a new one-woman show about motherhood from the hilarious Diane Flacks promises to be entertaining. It plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre until January 24.
Zona Pellucida & The Needle Exchange also opens on Friday at Buddies. The queer double-bill features a new work by the drag performance artists 2boys.tv in the first part of the evening and a variety show hosted by Keith Cole in the second. It runs until January 24.
Photos of Brendan Gall and Paul Dunn in East of Berlin by Cylla von Tiedemann.