BWW Review: Flawed but fascinating DELIKATESSEN opens at Centre Stage
Can we ever really let go of the past? Should we? Is it possible to forgive but not forget?
These are some of the questions explored in Delikatessen, a new play currently making its regional premiere at Centre Stage.
Set in 1972, the show takes place in a New York City deli owned by two holocaust survivors: David (played by the playwright Richard Atkins) and his younger brother Yossi (Bruce Meahl). The struggling business faces additional pressure when their delivery driver gets hurt in an accident, bringing threats of lawsuits and even retribution. Things go from bad to worse, though, when a new deli - owned by Germans - opens across the street.
David, who continues to harbor a deep-seated hatred of Germans, immediately suspects deliberate sabotage, a desire by Jew-hating Germans to run him out of business. This fear leads him to surreptitiously hire a famous Nazi hunter (Peter Godfrey) to investigate the German deli's owner (Ken Kraft). David's actions end up driving wedges between himself and his brother as well as his own wife (Tiffany Nave) and daughter (Anna Lee Altman). Ultimately, David's fear and simmering rage lead to an explosive climax.
Delikatessen sets up a central character defined by hatred. David is angry - and ashamed - about things he had to do to make sure he and his brother survived the concentration camp. "Horror lives within you like a cancer," his wife tells him. But, unfortunately, there's not much more to the character than this raw hatred. There are too few moments of tenderness, humor or even humanity from David. Richard Atkins plays the part with conviction, but as written he's a little too one-note. A more complex character could possibly engender more sympathy from the audience, as opposed to causing annoyance that all he seemingly does the entire play is yell.
Another difficult character is Rachel, David's daughter. Anna Lee Altman does what she can, but Rachel's transition from clueless student to violent revolutionary is too sudden to really ring true.
Other characters are a little better served. Bruce Meahl, for instance, brings forth some layers to the brother, Yossi, and Tiffany Nave has some nice moments as Sarah, David's wife. Peter Godfrey and Ken Kraft also make strong impressions, as does Richard Beveridge as a friendly violin player who becomes a regular customer. Best of all, though, is Rachel Jeffreys as loyal customer Maria Schneider. Jeffreys is delightful and brings a real spark to the proceedings whenever she appears.
Director Ellen Jones is unable to get past some of the draggier parts of the script and some moments that should have felt more substantial didn't quite land. But many scenes do stick with you, including David's final confession to his brother and a haunting dream sequence.
In the end this is a flawed but fascinating play. There are some really worthy themes explored here, not least of which is the study of how hatred can infiltrate and destroy an entire family. The final button, revealed at the very last moment, undermines the drama for me, but may strike others as perfect and even chilling. Either way, it is worthy of a good conversation - and isn't that exactly what we want from a new play?
Photo credit: Wallace Krebs Photography