BWW Reviews: Holocaust Drama UNIFORM Plays Capital Fringe
It may not be a particularly revolutionary idea to write a play about the Holocaust, but there's no getting away from the fact that one of the darkest moments in the 20th century offers a myriad of story possibilities - whether real or fictionalized accounts. It may be, however, a little revolutionary to stage a new Holocaust-inspired play in the Capital Fringe Festival. After all, the festival is usually a little heavy on the solo performance pieces, reinterpretations of classic plays, and 'edgier' contemporary fare that's likely to appeal to even some of the 20-somethings that would be unlikely to step into one of our area's more established theatre. That's just what Pseudostyle Theatre is doing with Aaron Sulkin's Uniform.
The presentation platform is not the only thing that makes this production different. One has to also consider the lens the playwright uses to focus his play.
Sulkin - in a departure from many an existing Holocaust-inspired play - focuses his attention not on Germany or Poland, but on Hungary. It's also not standard in that it does not deal strictly with the experience of Jews in hiding, the atrocities at the hands of the Nazis, or the politics of the day. Instead, we enter a world where Jacob (Brandon Herlig) has brought a soldier, Erik (Sam Taylor), dressed in a Nazi uniform into the doctor's office where his far less fiery brother David (Eric Schlein) and his outspoken sister Zsuzsanna (Brittany Martz) are hiding. The soldier is unconscious. As the truth is revealed as to why the hothead Jacob brought him back to the hiding place at gunpoint, the siblings must also decide what to do next. Kill him or take him up on his offer to help them escape the impending onslaught of more soldiers canvassing the area? Likewise, should the soldier trust he won't be harmed? Trust? Is it possible in this circumstance? Also, is it possible for German soldier and Jew to engage at a human to human level over common loss of life of loved ones in an era of such uncertainty and hatred? Is more killing the answer?
As written, however, Sulkin's play has seeds of good ideas, but there is ample room for improvement.
Although the ambiguous ending is fitting for a play that's less about how events play out and more about humans deal with the need to trust in an era of uncertainty and fear, as a whole the 45 minute play has an unfinished feeling to it. Perhaps a less elementary approach to character development and an explanation of the horrors of the Holocaust from those characters would also make for a more deeply thought-provoking compelling drama. A less contemporary feel to the dialogue may have allowed it to be perceived as more fully grounded in history.
Challenges also abound in the performances. Under the direction of Alec Henneberger, the young cast gives performances that reflect the tense and risky situation all of the characters find themselves in. However - whether in part due to the material they've been given to work with or not - Schlein, Herlig, and Martz hit the emotional high points the moment the play begins and stay at that point for the duration of the play. The confessions of the horror their characters and those they know have experienced don't necessarily evoke a strong emotional reaction (at least from me) because the emotion they bring to that moment is the same as every other moment of the play.
Another issue is line delivery. The moment where all four characters realize the enormous loss on both sides does not have the deep emotional response it should receive because the lines are delivered the same way as all the others. Schlein, Herlig, and Martz scream those lines in the same way as every other line while Taylor continues his very restrained, unemotional line delivery. While it is true that the siblings should be scared and thus prone to screaming and there should be some sense of detachment from the Nazi soldier given his military training, the manner of speaking doesn't necessarily jive with the intent behind the words that are being delivered.
Perhaps with better material, these actors would be given a greater chance to shine. Likewise, perhaps with a different set of actors, if some nuances do exist in Sulkin's script, I would have been able to appreciate them more.
Still, this production is noteworthy for being something a little different in the Fringe and I have to give all involved credit for that.
Running Time: 45 minutes.
Uniform is being performed at the Gearbox - 1021 7 Street, NW in Washington, DC - through July 27, 2014. For tickets and show information, visit the show page on the Capital Fringe website.
Graphic: Courtesy of the Capital Fringe website.