BWW Reviews: LEBENSRAUM Explores the Universal Need for Safe and Secure Living Space
The Art of Acting Studio is a nonprofit acting school in Los Angeles, the official west coast branch of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting New York City. The Studio's mission is to create an environment with the purpose of nurturing theatre artists who value humanity, their own and others, as their first and most precious priority while providing art and education to the greater community.
The Art of Acting Studio's professional company, The Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company, certainly lives up to its purpose of valuing humanity in its current production of LEBENSRAUM by Israel Horovitz, directed by Don K. Williams, from January 24 to March 1, 2014 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm at The Art of Acting Studio, 1017 North Orange Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
The play open in present-day Germany as the country's Chancellor, through a spasm of nightmarish guilt over the Holocaust, invites 6 million Jews to come live in Germany with a promise of "citizenship and full benefits" in the hopes that Germany can finally heal from its dark past. The resulting immigration stories about these "new citizens" range from two Holocaust survivors in Australia to a blue collar family in Massachusetts, as well as several Germans, most of whom are against giving what little jobs there are to the "new Jewish citizens" when German citizens cannot find work.
The logical progression of this artfully drawn script raises the terrifying possibility that history may repeat. Three actors play over 40 sharply drawn characters in this 90-minute kaleidoscopic journey asking, ''Could it happen again?''
Michael Keith Allen (who also designed the multilevel and thoroughly engaging set made up of wood, chairs, luggage, and props hidden among the cracks and crevices), moves gracefully from the German Chancellor to an American dock worker, Linsky, and then brilliantly carries on a conversation between two Holocaust survivors, Max Silverstein (who jokes to hide his pain) and Rosenzweig (who does not speak of it with gloom hanging over his head). Both men were born in Germany, survived the Holocaust, and then settled in Australia. With just the changing of a hat and a complete body movement transformation, Allen morphs back and forth between the two characters, fully giving life to each of them as they discuss Max's decision to now move back to Germany. Any of us who have known Holocaust survivors will certainly recognize these two men as portrayed with earnest dexterity by Allen.
Allen's Linsky and Silverstein are two of the "new citizens" around which the play is centered as they try to adapt to the ways of Germany and its people. Life is certainly not easy for either one of them. Linsky is the first to arrive looking for work and a new life, while Silverstein is the oldest and the only Holocaust survivor to return to Germany. Each has their own reasons for taking the Chancellor up on his offer: Silverstein returns for just one purpose - revenge against those who turned his family in, causing them to be sent them to the death camps - while Linsky just wants to find work, much to the chagrin of his family who goes with him even though they do not want to leave America.
Augustine Hargrave and Andria Kozica are often paired while Allen narrates the story, which keeps moving at lightening speed thanks to Williams' expert dramatic vision which includes having one of the actors often sit in the front row, bringing the audience with him or her into a church meeting, school room, or even a union uprising. Hargrave brings his youthful innocence to Linky's 15-year old son Sammy, confused and fearful of the move to Germany so his father can find work. Kozica shines as both Linky's non-Jewish wife and Anna, the teenage daughter of another dock worker who winds up calling for a strike when Linsky gets a promotion over him to "make things look good" for the "new citizens."
Hargrave and Kozica as Sammy and Anna are the Shakespearean star-crossed lovers of the play. The joy of innocent and overwhelming first love emanates from them and will touch your heart. But they also play two Israeli Jews who immigrate to keep an eye on the others; ready to take up arms to be sure the horror of the Holocaust never happens again. And when the confrontation erupts over what is fair when it comes to just and equal living space, we can only hope that the tragedies of the past will lead us on a better path in the future, one that allows us to forgive and move forward, while never forgetting and keeping our eyes open.
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