THEATER J PRESENTS WORLD PREMIERE OF "SCHINDLER'S LIST" AUTHOR THOMAS KENEALLY'S NEW "EITHER OR"
(Washington, DC) – Theater J presents another powerful world premiere in EITHER OR, a new historical drama by Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, based on the true story of Kurt Gerstein, a German Lutheran confronted by the atrocities of the Nazi regime and compelled to alert the world. Featuring Paul Morella as Gerstein, Ralph Cosham as his father Ludwig, and John Lescault in a series of roles including Gerstein's brother Franz as well as the Papal Nuncio, the show runs
May 2—June 3, 2007 at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DCJCC. Press night takes place on Sunday, May 6, at 7:30 pm with Pay-What-You-Can previews on Wednesday, May 2, and Thursday, May 3, at 7:30 pm.
"Either Or portrays the moral awakening of a fervent young man caught on the wrong side of history," notes Theater J's Artistic Director Ari Roth. "In his main character, Keneally has created the same kind of morally challenged protagonist that he did with Oskar Schindler. The more aware Gerstein becomes of his people's capacity for evil, the more he struggles with his own complicity in these actions. Impeccably researched, the play is shockingly relevant as it questions the conscience of a good soldier charged with fighting a terrible war."
As a young evangelical Christian initially supportive of Hitler's ascension, Gerstein becomes the only SS officer on record ever to alert the West and the Vatican about the extent of human horror transpiring in the camps. A fervent believer and Nazi Party member before the war, Gerstein grows disillusioned and bristles under the regime's repression of the Lutheran Church's activities. His outspokenness and decision to support a Jewish convert lands him in Nazi prison camps several times. After his release, Gerstein discovers that his mentally-ill sister-in-law, Bertha (Meghan Grady), has been euthanized at the notorious Hadamar Institute. Doctors try to disguise the larger scale extermination efforts taking place at Hadamar by blaming the many patients' deaths on an outbreak of typhus.
Dubious of the explanation and determined to ensure that what happened to his sister-in-law will never happen again, Gerstein joins the SS as a sanitation expert with an expertise in delousing methods. He quickly rises in the ranks but to his horror, sees that his delousing chemical of choice, Zyklon B, become the preferred murderous agent in the gas chambers. Gerstein decides to destroy shipments of Zyklon B and eventually tries to alert the incredulous West and the Vatican of what is transpiring.
"Kurt's fate, as a wrong-headed innocent who then becomes a whistle-blower," points out the internationally acclaimed author, Thomas Keneally, "is a tale to which, I hope, our own world can relate in 2007. While many bureaucrats and technocrats in the Western world, including Australia and the U.S. have been drawn into a policy they privately dissent from, those who were courageous enough to speak out were disbelieved, discredited and destroyed."
Helen Hayes-nominated director Daniel DeRaey (Passing the Love of Women, Theater J and former Associate Artist at Round House Theatre) adds, "The title 'Either Or' refers to Gerstein's choice between Zyklon B, a chemical which destroys quickly—and therefore more mercifully—and carbon monoxide, which will kill fewer people but at a cost of more suffering. More broadly," he adds, " it refers to Gerstein's unseemly choice between the lesser of two evils. During catastrophic times, the greater good is somehow missing from the picture."
DeRaey has attracted a talented ensemble to present Keneally's play. Paul Morella returns to Theater J (Sleeping Arrangements) as Kurt Gerstein. A long-time regular at Olney Theatre, Morella has appeared frequently at Woolly Mammoth Theatre (After Ashley), Arena Stage (Orpheus Descending), Signature Theatre (Angels in America) and Shakespeare Theatre (King John). Ralph Cosham makes his Theater J debut as Kurt's father, Ludwig. Cosham was a long-time company member at Arena Stage where he performed in dozens of works including the world premiere of Born Guilty by Ari Roth. A mainstay at the Shakespeare Theatre and the Folger, Cosham's credits include Comedy of Errors, Midsummer Night's Dream and dozens more. John Lescault, who last performed in Theater J's The Disputation, Hannah and Martin, and Central Park West/Riverside Drive plays Kurt's resentful brother, Franz; the notorious Professor Pfannenstiel and the incredulous Papal Nuncio. Elizabeth Richards, who plays Kurt's wife Friedle Bensch, recently appeared in Journeyman Theater's After Darwin and in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Catalyst Theatre. Meghan Grady, a company member of Synetic Theater (Macbeth, Frankenstein, The Dybbuk—co-production with Theater J), plays Kurt's sister-in-law Bertha.
John Dow, Conrad Feininger, John-Michael MacDonald, Parker Dixon and Clay Steakley provide a strong supporting cast. John Dow (Life in Refusal, Theater J; The Elephant Man, Olney Theatre) portrays Kurt's confidant, Pastor Martin Niemöller, and other roles. Washington Stage Guild company member Conrad Feininger returns to Theater J (Spring Fever, Homebody/Kabul) as Gestapo officer Ernest Zerrer, SS police chief Idilo Globocnik and other characters. John Michael MacDonald, who appeared in Theater J's The Disputation and The Studio Theatre's Guantanamo, plays the Jewish convert Ludwig Dewitz, the Swiss Diplomat Baron von Otter and SS officer Oberführer Gunter. Parker Dixon (Desire Under the Elms, The American Century Theater) and Clay Steakley (The Glory of Living, Didactic Theatre Company) perform additional supporting roles in the production.
Thomas Keneally was born in Australia in 1935, and since the late 1960's has written some thirty titles that have been published throughout the English-speaking world and in foreign translation. His works include The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Confederates, Schindler's List, and The Great Shame. His novel The Playmaker was adapted by the Joint Stock Theatre Company and became the international hit Our Country's Good. He has been short-listed for the Booker Prize four times and won it in 1982 for Schindler's List. He has taught at NYU and as a Distinguished Professor in the writing program at University of California Irvine (UCI). He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Many of his more recent works have been nominated as New York Times Notable Books of the Year.
His other novels include A River Town, The Tyrants’ Novel (2004), American Scoundrel (2002), the extraordinary tale of Civil War general Dan Sickles and Commonwealth of Thieves (2006). His short biography of Lincoln, written under commission for the Viking series of biographies authored by novelists, was short-listed for the Lincoln Medal. In 1999 he was declared an Australian Living Treasure. He lives on a beach near Sydney with his wife Judith, and has two daughters and three grandchildren. In the March, his latest book, The Widow and Her Hero was published by Sceptre.
Theater J is committed to reclaiming the distinctive urban voice and social vision that are part of its Jewish cultural heritage. Dedicated to renewing the American-Jewish repertoire, it produces plays and musicals that provoke and entertain, celebrating the vitality and intensity of the Jewish Experience while addressing the shared concerns of the Washington community. A program of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts, Theater J has been hailed by The New York Times as “The Premier Theater for Premieres.” MCCA is supported by a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which is in part supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Either Or is also a generous recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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