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A Happy End

Like the proverbial frog in the incrementally increasing heat of a pot of water, many Jews in Germany in the 1930's did not realize what was being done to them until it was too late. Little by little, the fascists took away their rights and their jobs. Those that stayed ended up exterminated or working as slaves in the concentration camps.

Kevin Hart and Mark Erdmann and Zuzana Stivinova as Leah Erdmann
Kevin Hart and Mark Erdmann and
Zuzana Stivinová as Leah Erdmann
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In hindsight, it's easy to see that they should have left long before they could not, but in the North American premiere of Iddo Netanyahu's A Happy End, we inhabit their choices from the inside, through the eyes of Mark Erdmann (Kevin Hart), a professor and research physicist, and his free-spirited wife, Leah (Zuzana Stivinová), an aficionado of the lively and erudite Berlin arts scene.

As Netanyahu queries in his program note, we want to believe that we are different than the Erdmanns, but are we? To the playwright's credit, we are forced to examine our circumstances and admit that the majority of us are standing idly by, trying to convince ourselves that there's nothing we can do, while our constitutional rights, livelihoods, and futures are being destroyed by a small group of unelected, amoral sociopaths that use the control over money creation and credit to control the planetary agenda.

James O'Hagan-Murphy as Dieter Kraft and Zuzana Stivinova as Leah Erdmann
James O'Hagan-Murphy
as Dieter Kraft
and Zuzana Stivinová
as Leah Erdmann
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Director Ami Dayan begins the story as a play-within-a-play, a conceit that gradually dissolves in counterpoint to the growing ascendancy of the Nazi agenda: scripts, directorial notes, and calls for lines giving way to the stark reality of an alternate reality in which long-standing moral presumptions are turned on their heads. The details of the settings graduate as well, until the full horror of the situation—at first just sketches; then black and white drawings; and finally, full-color interiors and formal set pieces lay bare the awful truth.

Stivinová skillfully walks a tightrope for Leah between studied obliviousness and subconscious disassociation from the events surrounding her—a dazzling high-wire act that sets up Hart's workaholic Mark, who, like many successful abstract thinkers, has little time for the outside world. Together they represent two vastly different points-of-view that are, nevertheless, both blind to the same forces.

Evan Duggan as Hans Erdmann and Heather Taylor as Martha
Evan Duggan as Hans Erdmann
and Heather Taylor as Martha
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Mark and Leah are attached to the amicable Teuton, Dieter (James O'Hagan-Murphy), Mark's protégé and Leah's lover. Like Leah, Dieter wants it both ways with Mark—loyalty and betrayal—and O'Hagan-Murphy actually makes this stick, as Dieter works to save the lives of his mentor and his mistress, even if it requires him to sacrifice his own happiness (much as Hamlet tried to alienate Ophelia to save her).

Spot-on performances—by Mary Cates as Anna, Mark's secretary who is sweet on Dieter; Evan Duggan as Hans, Mark and Leah's precocious son; and Heather Taylor as Martha, Hans' girlfriend—bring further poignancy and depth to the story.

Dayan's nurturing of the script, over the past couple of years, pays off in a creative blend of form and content. Excellent video editing and projections by Brian Freeland bring home the frenetic run up to World War II and the Holocaust.

AHE Development's presentation of A Happy End runs through September 16th at Buntport Theatre. 720-289-6451 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

Bob Bows

 

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