Crazy Hates


The Nazis' threats against Jews and German democracy are taken with the utmost seriousness in Ferdinand Bruckner's 1933 drama Race, but that, in a way, is the problem. Bruckner was a Jew so thoroughly assimilated to German culture that his response to the immediate danger of Nazism was to weave an elaborately soul-searching, Schillerian drama about it, exploring the rationales of doubters on both sides of the ethnic divide. This was a worthy but wrong tactic: By the time he was done, the doubters had been swept away, and the lines the Third Reich drew between Aryan and Jew had turned into walls, soon to enclose ghettos and ultimately death camps. The ill-timed impracticality of Bruckner's response—like dowsing for water while your house burns down—makes his play no more than a historical curio, too late to be prophetic and too ornate to bear witness.

There may, of course, be more to it than is on view at CSC: Director Barry Edelstein's adaptation speaks fluently, but gives us little backstory on the hero, Karlaner, a medical student who's been rescued by his Jewish girlfriend, Helene, from a potential dropout's life of boozing and promiscuity. There's no explanation of why Helene, rebelling against a leisured existence with her wealthy industrialist father, thinks reforming a sot would be the road to bliss, nor, more importantly, of how Karlaner, once sober, becomes both a champion self-questioning soliloquizer and, when pressured by his buddies, switches instantly to Nazi conformity. Even if these ill-assorted elements make sense together in Bruckner's complete text, they'd be hard to swallow on the contemporary stage, given our inevitable hindsight. As with Boy Gets Girl, we've seen all the scenes before; unlike Gilman, Bruckner doesn't surprise us with the characters' individuality.

Ora Jones and Mary Beth Fisher in Boy Gets Girl: the stalking cure
photo: Liz Lauren
Ora Jones and Mary Beth Fisher in Boy Gets Girl: the stalking cure

Details

Boy Gets Girl
By Rebecca Gilman
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street
212-581-1212

Race
By Ferdinand Bruckner
Adapted by Barry Edelstein
from a translation by Peter John Still
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
212-677-4210

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Instead, you just feel sorry for Stephen Barker Turner, the intermittent blank panic in whose eyes probably has more to do with the guff he has to spout than with Karlaner's emotional confusion; at any rate, he lets his loftier passages drop into a nonstop mumble. Maybe he just feels somewhat beaten down by the rest of the cast, which goes in for a loud, studied artificiality. Ronald Guttmann, as Helene's father, and C.J. Wilson, as Karlaner's ultra-Nazi classmate, both escape the surrounding falsity, though neither gives his role more than a credible surface reading. The surface, though, is where the production stores most of its strength: Neil Patel's spacious rectangular set, handsomely demarcated and shadowed by Russell H. Champa's sensitive lighting, makes a spectacularly powerful frame for Jan Hartley's tautly composed projections. The New Matter-of-Factness, as the Weimar artists called it, hasn't looked this fresh in decades; with a more matter-of-fact play and more truthful acting, it might have made an overpowering event. That it hasn't done so, and that Edelstein's own work is gravely flawed, shouldn't in any way dampen the credit he deserves for unearthing the play and taking the risk.

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