Review: East of Berlin

What would you do if you found out your father was a Nazi war criminal? How do you reconcile your love for and your desire to make your father proud while all the time knowing he may have been involved in unspeakable horrors?

This is the central theme of Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin currently playing at the Firehall Arts Centre through March 28th as part of the 2009 Chutzpah! Festival.

As with most theatre dealing with the holocaust, this can be heavy stuff but thanks to Playwright Moscovitch’s unique look through the eyes of the children from both sides of the fence it provides a new perspective in remembering the holocaust.

Told through the eyes of Rudi (Brendan Gall), he soon discovers his father’s involvement with the Nazis through his friend Hermann (Paul Dunn).

This discovery sets off a series of events for Rudi, who must reconcile in his mind what it means to be part of this family and ultimately how it affects him as a German, human being, son, lover and even a father himself.

Moscovitch is, fortunately, not above easing the tension and weighty subject matter with humour but she elevates it beyond what some might consider poor taste and helps the audience to get to a deeper meaning.

East of Berlin
Paul Dunn as Hermann and Brendan Gall as Rudi in Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin.

The one major problem, however, that I had with the show was in Moscovitch’s treatment of the relationship between Rudi and Hermann compared to the relationship Rudi and Sarah (Diana Donnelly). While Rudi becomes sexually involved with Hermann only to get back at his father, Rudi’s relationship with Sarah is entirely different.¬† Had Rudi’s father known about Sarah it would be as reprehensible as the homosexual relationship the father knew about. I couldn’t help but be annoyed that the gay relationship was used negatively and therefore something less real.

This is definitely Brendan Gall’s show bringing a sense of humanity to the role while trying to deal with the conflict between familial ties and the horrors of discovering that your father could be capable of such things. Both Donnelly and Dunn do admirable jobs although it must be tough when their characters are not as fully formed, relegated as the memories of Rudi.

Set designer Camellia Koo pushes the play right into the laps of the audience which is an interesting idea given how small the Firehall Arts Centre stage is to begin with. At times it works well as Rudi breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience but most certainly would have seemed a bit claustrophobic and for those in the first few rows. I did find myself thinking about the countless books in Koo’s largest set piece and their connection for the desire to remember and more important, to never forget.

Michael Walton’s lighting design was spot on as it takes us through the various locations and times on the single set and sound designer John Gzowski uses a variety of old Nazi sounds to effectively set the mood without being distracting.

While East of Berlin has some problems, it is Moscovitch’s unique twist to the holocaust that makes this a must-see part of the this year’s Chutzpah¬†Festival.

3 of 5 Stars“The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.”

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