This review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
George Tabori's Jubilee is a scathing rebuke directed toward any resurgence or sympathy in the types of behavior that Tabori witnessed first-hand in the lead up to World War II. Written originally in German in 1983, three years after Tabori returned, the playwright may have either seen familiar behavior or meant to describe what World War II was like. Within the 70s and 80s, German nationalism suffered from "a feeling of hopelessness" which later resulted in the 1989-91 social movement, "Die Winde," that reunited Germany under a democratic parliamentary system. It's hard to tell whether, in 1983, Tabori was responding to a social trend, calling out outliers, or providing critical satire on the century's darkest hours. While Tabori relies on mixed metaphors and stylized dialogue similar to Tabori's other reproduction, Mein Kampf, he also lays out his intentions in this dramatic tale of death and woe much clearer. There is no wondering whether we are to understand evil or contemplate the profundity of a satirical jab at the meaninglessness of wishing to prevent that which already occurred. No, it is clear that evil must be stopped immediately. This is shown expertly rather than told. We, as the audience, must relive the deaths of five innocents, each of which is related to the actions of the hateful, young skinhead, Juergen played terrifically by David Knowle whose villainous posturing and venomous tone captured the essence of hate.
Jubilee revolves around Juergen's visits to the graveyard where the victims of his hate lie buried. It may be said that he attempts to reconcile with some measure of guilt for their deaths, and yet he simultaneously tortures these dead ghosts further. In one scene he quite literally punches them in the face. While sometimes it seems like Juergen does, in fact, regret causing so many deaths, he spends most of the play rubbing into these ghosts that they are, in fact, dead. Each scene from the opening in which all of the ghosts and Juergen appear together develops in further detail how it is that these characters met their fates and ended up buried together in this particular spot. The first of these is an old man named Arnold, played by G.W. Reed. His performance is more than adequate to the role and starts the play off on a somber but patient tone. The young Juergen prank calls old Arnold and he tells his wife, Lotte, played exceptionally well by Cordis Heard, that it is just the "poor freak." He keeps up an uplifting reminiscence of when they first met until Juergen reminds him of the death of Mitzi, Lotte's late sister's only child. Lotte attempts to keep Arnold happy, but Juergen apparently doesn't think he has harassed the old man enough, however, and he shows up on the doorstep to put a bullet in Arnold's chest. From there, we dive into the interrelated events (and deaths) that have led to this moment.
The first three deaths are the suicides of Mitzi (Andrea Lynn Green), Otto (Jeff Burchfield), and Helmut (Derrick Peterson). While it doesn't seem to directly state which death came first chronologically, the play's timeline continues with Helmut, who is the gay spouse of Otto and Juergen's uncle. Helmut is upset at his nephew's constant hate and unpunished crimes against the Jewish, so he gets himself circumcised. Helmut begins to mentally self-destruct when he can't reach Juergen and eventually ends up in a hospital to receive treatment for his sexual preference as the source of his melancholy. He "succumbs" to the treatment and is left in a room with a belt just as a Nazi once left a prisoner in a room with a belt. Helmut uses it to hang himself in the same manner that the prisoner once was forced to in World War II. Upon receiving the news, Otto does the same, slipping into the water after taking sleeping pills. While it may seem that these deaths do not have much to do with the evil of Juergen, Mitzi's death is more clearly related begging us to ask the question, "When do we act?" Mitzi moved to this new school and fell ill-fated in love with a young boy in a long, black coat. While she never specifically says Juergen, he happens to always be wearing a long, black, coat. Seemingly as a joke or possibly out of some interest (shown in the form of hate?), Juergen sends Mitzi a letter. She is excited to read it, but upon opening it, she reads aloud, "How come they (the Nazis) missed you?" She promptly responds by putting her head in an oven. Are these instigator-less crimes? Is there no one to blame? Do we wait to stop the hatred until an outright act of violence has been committed such as the execution-style shooting of old Arnold?
David Knowle performs an excellent soliloquy suggesting that we, deep down as people, relish the chance to be evil and dismiss the small evils, better described as warning signs. Maybe this is true. each of these four deaths seems to be modeled after the deaths of Jewish prisoners during World War II. So how does Lotte end up in the cemetery with the other four? As it turned out, she is slowly drowned in a telephone booth amidst a parade. If the other death's metaphors don't draw enough clear allusions to World War II, Cordis Heard's passionate and desperate plea must ring true. At first, she is calm, letting every one of her safe friends know that she will be going away for a while when suddenly she realizes that water is leaking into her phone booth. She begins to ask calmly for help, but her friends think she is pranking them and start hanging up on her. The door is stuck shut, and the parade goers are too busy partying to notice her plight. Her friends continue to ignore her desperation, and she begins to bid them goodbye until finally, the water has drowned her. It was a beautiful performance by Cordis to tie the deaths together. Before World War II, many people likely knew that something was happening. Some left, but most either couldn't or by the time they realized they needed to, they were no longer able to leave the country. They asked for help, but people didn't listen. Many were too excited about the good things to care (the "parades"). Those stuck in Central Europe before the fighting broke out were drowned in front of everyone who never even lifted a finger in their defense.
While maybe this, for some people, was enough, the final act demonstrates the true darkness of ignoring those deaths that were evident. Andrea Lynn Green puts on an outright virtuoso performance as Mitzi with a conclusive plea. She portrays this through "what she learned about Hitler" for a school paper. She shifts characters and voices to showcase her range and ability, describing the needless hanging by the Nazis of a number of children aged 5 to 12 who were ordered to their deaths to conceal an experiment using the children to test an "anti-tuberculosis serum." It was a privilege to watch her work with such passion. The deaths were needless and horrible, but had action been taken, could the evil have been stopped even before Mitzi and the oven? While the inherent thesis does not stand on any single, specific story, it does display, in my opinion, exactly what Tabori had intended. This collection of snippets, comparable to a slide show or a series of dreams, provides a look into what it was like to watch the evil unfold as a member of the minority communities in Nazi Germany. There is very, little classic plot to speak of, but I would say that Tabori understood this. Instead of seeing the play develop in a classical way toward a climax, each scene becomes a clearer and clearer depiction of what the Nazi evil developed into to the point that researchers viewed children as "guinea pigs." The question must be asked even though we might hear the cries for help, "does Juergen listen?" See at Theater For The New City on May 20th or May 21st at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available on the website, http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Enjoy!