EAST OF BERLIN by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Alisa Palmer (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To November 25. Pwyc-$32. 416-531-1827. Rating: NN
Approaching the fallout of the Holocaust from an unexpected angle, rising playwright Hannah Moscovitch deserves full marks for chutzpah in East Of Berlin . Too bad the script and production aren't a little more aligned.
Narrator Rudi (Brendan Gall) is the son of a Nazi war criminal, a Joseph Mengele-type doctor who's now living in Paraguay. Rudi recounts learning about this from his childhood friend Hermann (Paul Dunn). What happens afterwards - including an affair with Hermann and a move to Berlin, where he meets and falls in love with an American Jew named Sarah (Diana Donnelly) - seems motivated by filial anger and guilt.
It's a complicated story that spans years and continents, but neither Moscovitch nor director Alisa Palmer seems concerned with establishing a sense of place or time. How else to explain the lack of visual details about life in Paraguay or Berlin? Or why we hear Wagner during the Rudi/Hermann scenes? Are we meant to think that these teenagers' background music is The Ring Cycle?
The play is best approached as an experiment in point of view and tone. Rudi's narration is casual, self-effacing and darkly humorous. He's asking us to like him, and it works - up to a point. But the miscasting of the very contemporary-looking Gall in this near-impossible role (maybe a younger Brent Carver could have succeeded) gives the play a TV sitcom feel that drains it of its emotional power. The central romance feels contrived.
Donnelly and Dunn make the most of under-written parts; Dunn's slouched shoulders establish a lot in the first act, and in the second act you can see him try to make more of his character than the stereotypical pathetic gay hanger-on.
Moscovitch has a good grasp of language. When Rudi uses the word "solution," it of course spookily echoes the script's earlier mention of the "final solution."
But the most memorable element of the production is Camillia Koo's set, dominated by a massive bookshelf full of dusty tomes and artifacts. Enhanced by Michael Walton's lighting design, it works beautifully to suggest hidden rooms and the unbearable weight of the past on the characters.