May 7, 2007
Either Or
Reviewed by Susan Davidson  

Few world premieres, few plays in fact, arrive on stage with the force of Either Or, which is at Theater J through June 3. The playwright, Thomas Keneally, best known for having authored Schindler’s List, has done it again. He has taken little-known facts and burrowed deep into their emotional, philosophical, and political repercussions. What, he asks, are the consequences of confronting evil? The resulting play, though harrowing, is thought-provoking. “When no choice is right,” Either Or asks, “do you shuffle papers and stay out of it?”

As Kurt Gerstein, the central character, Paul Morella, a consistently fine actor, gives his best and most moving performance to date. Gerstein, born in Germany in 1905, joins the Nazi party in 1933 out of idealism and perhaps a little naivete, believing that “Christ is in all men.” Even when his insane sister-in-law Berthe—played most sympathetically by the beautiful Meghan Grady—is put in a straightjacket, Gerstein refutes the assessment of his father, a judge, that “Berthe is one of God’s mistakes,” by replying, “There is no such thing.” “I joined the SS,” Kurt says, “as a means to avenge Berthe’s death.”

By the late 1930s, Gerstein was working as an engineer who specialized in sanitation and Zyklon B. Having witnessed “termination” in the camps, he does what he feels is right, in spite of his father’s advice that “to tell a government what it wants to hear is not a lie, it is a courtesy.” Kurt challenges his superiors in the SS. He tries to enlist the help of a Swedish diplomat; he asks a priest to tell the Pope about mass murder in the camps. “The share of the blame is killing me,” he says as he surrenders to the Western Allies.

Theater J is to be commended for presenting a play whose subject matter might deter audiences. That would be a pity because it is truly a privilege to see a play—a world premiere yet—as good as this one in such an intimate space.

Tickets are $15 to $45, 8000-494-TIXS; www.boxofficetickets.com

Discussions sponsored by the German Historical Institute and Goethe-Institut about themes in Eithor Or are planned following Sunday matinees. For details, check at 202-777-3210 or www.theaterj.org.

May 20—“Whistle Blowing in the Dark: Attempts at Redemptive Acts in Eras of Horrifying Repression” with Dr. Bernd Schaeffer of the German Historical Institute.

May 27—“Church, Society, and Individual Choice in Nazi Germany: The Religious and Social Setting for the ‘New Germans’ of the 1930s” with Victoria Barnett, director of church relations at the Holocaust Museum.

List of Artistic Director's Roundtable Discussions

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A world premiere by
Thomas Keneally
Directed by Daniel DeRaey

(800) 494-TIXS

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