"LEBENSRAUM" IMAGINES  THE JEWS GET INVITED BACK TO GERMANY
photo by Tim Fuller

From left, David Alexander Johnston, Lucille Petty and Steve Wood play more than 40 characters in "Lebensraum."

Every day the news is filled with stories about the unintended consequences of some controversial act or other by one of the world's political leaders. Invisible Theater homes in on the possibilities of what might happen should today's chancellor of Germany announce his nation will welcome six million Jews to become citizens with full benefits.

The chancellor meant well, seeking to atone for the sins of Nazi Germany. But people are complicated, ultimately motivated more by their own survival. Playwright Israel Horovitz studies the possibilities up close and personal in “Lebensraum,” which premiered in 1996.

Susan Claassen directs a trio of the city's top talent – David Alexander Johnston, Lucille Petty and Steve Wood – playing more than 40 roles to dramatize how Horowitz felt such a sweeping decision would strip away the politeness of human nature to reveal its essence.

Many Germans thought it was a great idea, but others wondered what a sudden infusion of so many Jews would do to the economy? There won't be enough jobs for everyone. Wages will suffer. Jewish boys will marry Germany's fair maidens, and then what? Unemployed husbands will become a burden on society.

In Israel and other countries of the diaspora, re-settled Jews immediately suspected the German politicians were setting a trap, luring Jewish families back to their homeland to finish the genocide that began with the holocaust.

Claassen's actors put human faces on all these emotions, playing a pair of idealistic young lovers and their uncertain parents, a concentration camp survivor living out his last years in Australia, a German dock worker who watches friends lose their jobs to these new Germans.

Equally fascinating in this engaging 90-minute production is seeing the depth of unobtrusive theatrics that are employed to keep all the characters straight as their stories are told. A simple turn of a cap, a wisp of costume, hunched shoulders, broad shoulders, sometimes a pair of glasses, all were changes employed quickly to keep the action flowing.

There are also several masks designed by Maryann Trombino that become people, as well.

Ultimately we are left to wonder, how much does history shape us...or warp us? As historians record the results will they come down on the side of humanity surviving, or of Evil never being vanquished?

"Lebensraum,” translated as the “living space” Hitler used for his excuse to keep expanding Germany's borders, continues through Feb. 19 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. All shows are sold out. An additional 7 p.m. performance has been added on Sunday, Feb. 19.

All ticket are $32, rush tickets are half-price when available 30 minutes before curtain. For details and reservations, invisibletheatre.com or 882-9721.


DEFENDING SEX EDUCATION IN "WHAT EVERY GIRL SHOULD KNOW"
photo by Rebecca Pferdeort

From left, Anne (Ellie Boyles), Joan (Kate Cannon) and
Lucy (Robin Carson) look for better answers to their lives.

Something Something Theatre Company's stark production of “What Every Girl Should Know” by Monica Byrne is more of a statement than a drama, comparing society's inhibitions toward sexually active young females in 1914 and the more enlightened attitudes that were beginning to stir in the pioneering work of Margaret Sanger on the subjects of birth control and abortion rights.

The title refers to a newspaper column that Sanger wrote in 1913 to give young women some direct knowledge of the sexual process that was affecting their bodies. We are told such knowledge was extremely difficult for females to acquire at that time.

We sympathize now, and our hearts go out to the play's four adolescent girls so filled with enthusiasm for life but already kept in a Catholic reform school in New York City as punishment for letting themselves be defiled by men.

Jasmine Roth directs a cast of Ellie Boyles, Kate Cannon, Robin Carson and Christine Peterson, creating a fine sense of the camaraderie among teens who, in their hearts, don't really feel like they have done anything wrong.

Anne (Boyles) is the angriest. She was molested by her older brother and still feels unfairly treated. Theresa (Peterson) is the compulsively happy one, determined to make the best of this incarceration. She was “taken advantage of” by a concerned doctor that she trusted with kindness.

Lucy (Carson) is the most innocent sexually, but the most imaginative. She, in turn, inspires the other girls with her lustfully romantic stories. Their stirred up imaginations are presented as loosely choreographed dances expressing powerful feelings based on very little actual experience.

Joan (Cannon) makes her entrance after the first act has been running for awhile and becomes the central figure. Her mother was a follower of Sanger's teaching, and was jailed for distributing Sanger's writing and pamphlets.

With Joan's mom in jail, Joan was assaulted by her father. Unbeknownst to anyone, Joan did have time to gather up a lot of Sanger's materials and bring them with her to the reform school.

Joan passes the banned papers around to her new roommates, who voraciously consume them and soon declare themselves to be followers of Saint Margaret.

As their growing fascination with Sanger's ideas is encouraged by Lucy's stories of freed emotions, their conflicts with the Church become inevitable. While the ending is not satisfying, mainly because these actors have made the girls so endearing, the play will leave you feeling thoughtful.

It has to.

"What Every Girl Should Know” runs through Feb. 26, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Community Playhouse, 1881 N. Oracle Road. A representative from Planned Parenthood will take part in a post-show discussion following each performance.

Tickets are $22. For details and reservations, somethingsomethingtheatre.com or call 468-6111.