EAST OF BERLIN by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Alisa Palmer (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). In previews, opens Wednesday (October 24). Pwyc-$32. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
There's a natural repugnance at finding a skeleton in your family closet. But Rudi, the central character in Hannah Moscovitch's East Of Berlin, makes a more horrific discovery than most. His father was a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz.
A teen in the 60s, living with his family in Paraguay, Rudi must deal with the new knowledge provided by his friend Hermann. The action of the play catapults Rudi to Germany, where he meets Sarah, a Jewish woman with whom he becomes involved on a number of levels. But while Rudi's the key to East Of Berlin, Hermann has his own story to tell.
"Like Rudi, he's grown up in a German community of ex-Nazi elites, people who still celebrate Hitler's birthday in secret," notes Paul Dunn, who plays Hermann. "But Hermann's different from most of his friends because he has sought out the truth on his own. He knows about the activities of his own father and other parents in the community.
"In terms of the play, he's there to speak the truth quietly and clearly to Rudi, and then pick up the pieces afterwards, as much as they can be picked up. Hermann is generous that way."
Ironically, the play is the second in as many years in which Dunn's character has had to deal with Nazis. In Hannah's Suitcase, he was metaphorically on the other side, playing a Jewish boy who became a concentration camp "resident."
In Moscovitch's script, he has another layer to play, because Hermann is gay.
"Yes, he's really an outsider in this 60s South American community," smiles Dunn, a writer (Offensive Shadows at SummerWorks, High-Gravel-Blind at Stratford) as well as a performer. He returns next season to Stratford to act in Caesar And Cleopatra, The Taming Of The Shrew and Romeo And Juliet.
"I think of Hermann as a runt in terms of the big, blond Aryan ideal; he's small and slight, but strong in having embraced his history and not apologizing for it. He won't buy into the denial of the rest of the community."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Paul Dunn on playwright Hannah Moscovitch's writing