Writer: Hannah Moscovitch
Director: Blythe Stewart
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
It’s a device common enough to be instantly familiar, but done well so rarely that it stands out a mile when properly executed. Using a minor puzzle piece to show a whole picture, an arc to describe a circle. It renders the abstract familiar, and can bring an audience to the core of the matter at hand. Sometimes it can lead to an unfair focus on one aspect of the issue, however, and can obscure other elements which bring much needed balance to a story.
A doctor who used inmates at the Auschwitz concentration camp in medical experimentation then escaped to Paraguay with his family is not an ideal subject for a balanced argument. The legacy his actions leave on his son’s psyche are much more interesting, and thankfully this is what we are given. Hannah Moscovitch’s play deals with the transferred guilt and generational ramifications of this awful history, covering love, revenge and a struggle for understanding on the way.
Rudi is told about his father’s war history when he is 17 and his friend Hermann let it slip in school one day. This causes an understandable rift between father and son, resulting in violence and Rudi leaving home. Through the Odessa organisation (using a Nazi organisation as a way to escape from a Nazi life, and then to continue using it, contributes greatly to the multi-faceted psychological depth of this play) Rudi ends up as a student in Berlin where he, after several years, meets Sarah. She’s from America, has a US war veteran father, is Jewish and has a mother who was freed from Auschwitz after being there at the same time as Rudi’s father.
Rattling around the whole play is the screaming “sins of the father” idea. The guilt and disgust Rudi feels for his father’s actions are understandable, as is his desire, whether conscious or not, to distance himself mentally, physically, every way from his family and his family’s past. Throughout, we are invited to understand the different forces that have led to this moment and how/why they have made Rudi the way he is. Not content with displaying a conflicted character, Moscovitch has written audience discomfort into her work as well. We are invited, through Rudi as proxy, to imagine justifying the experiments in the camps, to understand the positions of the doctors as they chose people for the transports to the chambers.
Jordan McCurrach as Rudi (with sort of an odd accent for a German living in Paraguay) is a treat to watch. Vulnerable, bewildered, desperate but always with a core of confidence and competence, as a portal through which this enormous story can be seen he is top class. Joined by Tom Lincoln and Jo Herbert as Hermann and Sarah respectively, Blythe Stewart’s direction and superb audio and visual design, this small cast and crew produce something with great depth, something much greater than the sum of their constituent parts.
Runs until 12th July