nytheatre.com review by Alexandra Cremer
August 14, 2011
Wilhelmstrasse, written and directed by Stuart Caldwell at the New York International Fringe Festival, asks a lot of interesting questions. What is the difference between forgiving and forgetting? How do you let go of the sins of the past? What is the difference between letting go of the past and forgetting? Does time heal all wounds?
The play takes place in New York City and Berlin between 1995 and 1998. It’s about the relationship between Samuel, a Jewish man from New York, and Rica, a beautiful woman from Germany. They gently tease each other about their differences him calling her “my little Nazi” and her calling him “my Jewish boy.” The show shifts when he visits her in Berlin. She is working in a legal capacity to get war reparations for Holocaust victims. “How much is enough?” she asks him. She wants to show him the modern sights of Berlin, he wants to visit the places where the atrocities of the Holocaust occurred. She is looking forward, he is looking back. She wants him to realize there is more to Germany than the Holocaust. He wants to make sure no one forgets the Holocaust. She is saddened by the past actions of her people. In a wonderful scene, she takes him to a museum and she shows him a piece that is nothing but empty bookshelves. It is representative of the time when Hitler's people burned all the books that were not “Aryan.” On a screen above the actors is a quote by Heinrech Heine that says “When they start by burning books they end by burning people.” The quote was written in 1820.
The show also tackles issues of stereotypes. Rica wants to be more than an orderly and efficient “Nazi Girl” and Samuel longs to be more than a “cole slaw Jew.” (A cole slaw Jew is an argumentative Jewish person who sends food back in a restaurant.)
The couple try to make the relationship work in spite of all the obstacles. In one of the show's high points, she takes him to an address that used to be Nazi headquarters. He looks at the address and realizes it is now a kindergarten. He is horrified that something so horrible has been erased, and she is frustrated that he isn’t able to move on and into the future.
I found Wilhelmstrasse to be an interesting play with a myriad of thought provoking ideas, though I wanted more from the show. I left the show wondering if the two characters loved each other or if they were only together in order to slowly torture each other. The actors Giordona Aviv and Nick Mason give solid performances, though I did want to see a bit more passion.
The simple staging with a screen in the background with photos of Berlin and New York City works quite well. The show brings up many interesting topics for discussion and is worth seeing.