Back to Berlin

Theater

By Cara Joy David

Published December 08, 2006, issue of December 08, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

What would happen if, in our time, a German chancellor urged 6 million Jews to relocate to Germany? That is the question posed by Israel Horovitz’s play “Lebensraum,” which will enjoy a limited engagement at off-Broadway’s Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row from December 13 through December 30.

In “Lebensraum,” a German chancellor does indeed make the entreaty mentioned above, promising all Jewish immigrants citizenship and employment. The play features a cast of three actors (T. Ryder Smith, Suli Holum and Ryan Young) portraying more than 80 characters, including a laid-off Jewish dock-worker who travels from Massachusetts to Bremerhaven; an Auschwitz survivor who returns to Berlin to find the woman who betrayed his family to the Nazis; a young German girl who falls in love with one of the new citizens, and many others. With the influx of inhabitants, many native Germans are displaced, much to their displeasure.

“Lebensraum” marks the start of a busy time for Horovitz, who has about 50 full-length stage works to his credit as well as screenplays for numerous films. In January 2007, after “Lebensraum” closes, the small Barefoot Theatre Company will present “Israel Horovitz’s New Shorts,” a compilation of nine new Horovitz plays, at the 78th Street Theatre Lab. Then, in February, the producing wing of The New York Playwrights Lab, a society of scribes founded by Horovitz in 1975, will launch with the premiere of the author’s “The Secret of Mme. Bonnard’s Bath” on Theatre Row. Because it kicks off this loose celebration, this staging of “Lebensraum” is of particular import.

“Some of [my plays] are quite good, some of them are less than quite good. I think that ‘Lebensraum’ is quite good,” Horovitz said in an interview before acknowledging ‘that opinion and $1 will buy you a copy of the Forward.”

In the late 1800s, the word Lebensraum, which means “living space,” came to represent an ideology that held there was not enough room for the expansion of the German people. Adolf Hitler embraced this philosophy and used it to justify his expansionist principles.

Horovitz was inspired to write “Lebensraum” after he took a particularly disturbing journey to Germany more than a decade ago. Although Germany is seen by many as one of the least antisemitic countries in Europe today, Horovitz’s experience was different. There to see productions several of his plays, he remembers meeting an actress who told him: “You can’t have Jewish character in plays in Germany… it doesn’t ‘smell’ good.” This led him to have a discussion with his German translator, a young woman who had grown up knowing not a single Jew. Horovitz learned that it had been hard for her traveling the world, because of anti-German sentiment after the war.Horovitz began to believe that Germans of her generation would one day think, “These abstract Jews are causing me a lot of trouble.” It was exactly the sort of sentiment that, he thought, could lead to another Holocaust — and trying to evoke it in modern terms became the goal for this play.

If the piece sounds too serious to bear, it’s not all Sturm und Drang. There are many light moments — including one in which an actor simultaneously plays two elderly Jews in the midst of an argument — and good deal of the play’s humor draws on old-time shtick (“He opened a business as a Mr. Fix-It,” one character says. “He should have called his business Mr. Break-It-Worse!”).

“It’s a blend of comedy and tragedy,” Horovitz said. “I don’t think the subject can be treated with somber seriousness and still find an audience.”

The play, first produced almost a decade ago, has been presented all over the world. While it is about a particular people, the events portrayed could happen to anyone. “The threat of genocide is universal, and the play incorporates universal themes in an intensely entertaining way to make this very point,” noted Jonathan Rest, who directed the piece. “‘Lebensraum’ is about fear of people different from ourselves. Given what’s going on in our country and in the world, can you think of a more timely and important topic?”

Cara Joy David is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in SPY, Soap Opera Weekly, The New York Times and other publications.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.