Nothing says, “Merry Christmas!” like the image of two teenaged sons of prominent Nazis sucking each other off on a desk in Paraguay beside a gold-framed photograph of Hitler. That is just one of the many darkly hilarious moments in Hannah Moscovitch’s Governor General’s Award nominated play East of Berlin.
I saw this play almost a year ago at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and quickly fell in love with Moscovitch’s talent for scripting vivid and unexpected dialogue and characters that are so richly complex and instantly compelling. Suffice to say, I was very excited to hear that 2b theatre in Halifax was producing the play at the Bus Stop Theatre (running until December 13th with shows at and ). I was even more eager when I realized that I would have an opportunity to attend the East Coast production while I was home for the holidays.
This production was beautifully directed by Christian Barry, with set pieces (designed by Andrew Cull) sprawling across the playing-space of the Bus Stop which thrust the action of the play appropriately into the laps of its audience. The play’s protagonist, Rudi, speaks directly to the audience throughout much of the play, and makes them complicit to his story and all of his actions so it is integral that the atmosphere be intensely intimate. Barry’s choice of movement and the way he manoeuvred his actors about the space was reminiscent of Alisa Palmer’s staging of the Tarragon production, although Barry kept the stage strikingly dark, which correlated nicely with the anxious, covert, and sinister world Rudi describes to his audience and contrasted to the reality of the weather in Paraguay. I found that Barry’s handling of the sex scenes in the play rose above their potential for awkwardness and achieved a level of smoothness that is rare for scenes of this nature due to his creative use of lighting and the positioning of the actors on the stage and in relation to the furniture.
The play centres on Rudi, played in Halifax by David Patrick Flemming, a young man who, upon unravelling a horrific secret about his family’s past, tries desperately to rid himself of the guilt he feels simply for being born his father’s son. Flemming is an awkwardly charming Rudi, who slips in and out of his present terrified and tentative state, and into a turbulent past in his desire to share his story with the audience. Moscovitch has written Rudi’s monologues in a distinct, disjointed manner filled with pauses and trailed off sentences. When Flemming hits Rudi’s rhythm he is unstoppable, but as soon as he hits a glitch, his manner of speech seems unnatural until he regains his stride again. His Rudi has fascinating chemistry with Bill Wood’s Hermann, a friend of Rudi’s who also seeks to distance himself from the sins of his father, and beautiful chemistry with Katie Swift’s Sarah, a young Jewish girl with a strong sense of curiosity and a rebellious streak. Bill Wood gives a great performance as Hermann, the savvy aesthete who is a beautiful mixture of wildly sensitive, innately intelligent and cautiously reserved- wary of being hit. Hermann has a heartbreaking moment in the play when he reconnects with Rudi after several years which Wood played with such an earnest and raw display of how deeply Rudi had hurt him. Katie Swift is wonderfully frank as Sarah and captures the rhythm of Moscovitch’s dialogue brilliantly. The most poignant moment in the play is all Swift, as she sits and sings in Hebrew from a prayer book; a remarkable mixture of haunting and poetic.
East of Berlin is a beautifully compelling piece of theatre that will send you out into the streets contemplating the tale these five talented artists have woven for you. It is both encouraging and inspiring to see one of Halifax’s most acclaimed theatre companies producing a new Canadian play with a young, fiercely talented local cast. East of Berlin, it’s not 2b missed!
East of Berlin closes Sunday, December 13th. Shows at 2:00pm and 8:00pm. The Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street, Halifax). For tickets or more information please call 902.453.6267 or visit www.2btheatre.com.