Discovery can make going to the theater exhilarating: You can experience a play which covers familiar territory but doesn’t seem at all familiar. EAST OF BERLIN is one of those remarkable scripts, unearthed by the Apollinaire Theatre Company, presented as part of their international FOREIGN FEST. Canadian playwright Hannah Moskovitch comes at her subject (the legacy of the Holocaust) from an entirely surprising angle. At the heart of the story is the son of a Nazi doctor born after the war who knew little or nothing of his father’s crimes…until a school chum enlightens him. From then on, he is obsessed with the need for redemption. Moskovitch visits the sins of the father squarely on his shoulders and the weight, you can imagine, is unbearable.
I’m writing this on Holocaust Remembrance Day … and thinking of the plays I’ve seen which try to address the horror, so many of which miss the mark. At the moment only two come to mind which left me shaking in my seat. (In my opinion if a play with this subject matter doesn’t leave you stunned, it didn’t do its job.) Double Edge Theatre’s SONG OF ABSENCE is one and Apollinaire’s EAST OF BERLIN is the other – both entirely different plays. The former uses breathtaking imagery to conjure the inhumanity and the latter uses a psychological juggernaut to deliver its blow.
Danielle Fauteux Jacques (who directs both the company and EAST OF BERLIN) paces the play flawlessly. We have no idea what’s coming our way (I give high praise to a script when I can’t guess the ending) until the playwright wants us to realize what’s driving the action. Evan Sanderson’s exquisite performance as the son is a harrowing depiction of sheer terror wrapped in an exterior of forced charm and affability. Harry Hobbs, as his childhood friend, brilliantly conveys hurt and betrayal and Alison Meirowitz is the lovely Jewish student who could be this tortured man’s salvation. But it’s Sanderson, on stage alone for most of the play, who transports us into the vortex of his guilt.