East of Berlin Explores an Alternative View of the Effects of the Holocaust

Jamie Cavanagh in East of Berlin. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

Jamie Cavanagh in East of Berlin. Photo credit Mat Simpson

I’m quickly discovering that if you’re looking for “chilling” theatre, plays by Hannah Moscovitch are a pretty good place to start. I’m not talking about “chilling” like the blood and guts and hardhearted killers you see in movies – we know that’s fake and we can walk away from it. Hannah Moscovitch’s plays stay with you, spin in your mind, and become more and more gut-wrenching the longer you think about them because they’re so realistic and compelling. Earlier this year I saw Moscovitch’s play Little One at the Roxy Theatre and I’m still thinking about it. I’m eagerly await Moscovitch’s most famous play, East of Berlin, presented by East/West Collective as part of Punctuate! Theatre’s Performance Series from April 30 – May 5.

East of Berlin is a play about how a man reconciles with his family’s past and his own present and future after discovering his father was an SS doctor at Auschwitz. I had the opportunity to speak with Director Simon Bloom, who says, “It’s about the sins that we inherit from our fathers, and are we responsible for the things that they do? Not just the Germans, but also the Jewish people in the play. Being Jewish myself I was sort of interested in  doing a play that was about Judaism, but not so directly about it. It kind of attacked it from the side… so many stories about the Holocaust are Jewish-centred, and those stories are great, but they aren’t the only ones.”

Andréa Jorawsky in East of Berlin. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

Andréa Jorawsky in East of Berlin. Photo credit Mat Simpson

On having the story of some of the after-effects of the Holocaust being told through a German perspective, Simon says, “I feel like, being Jewish, I’m in a comfortable position to say something like, “Jewish people weren’t the only people affected by the war and here’s what the fallout of the Holocaust was on Germans,” because you so rarely see that side… I feel like I have the opportunity to present the fallout of the war on the person, not ‘the Jewish person’.”

Simon and I also spoke about how the rarity of presenting a story about the Holocaust though a German protagonist makes the play and the issues it addresses more real. “There are these iconic films like Life is Beautiful or Schindler’s List that are such iconic Jewish stories, so when the protagonist is actually German, it opens you up into the realm of realism because you have to start thinking about what was the impact of the war on people we’ve never heard about… After I did East of Berlin (in 2010) I was in a bar and we had an exchange student in the Department [of Drama] at the UofA, she was German and one day it came up in conversation [that I was Jewish] and the first thing she said to me was ‘I’m sorry.’ I was like, ‘What are you sorry for?’ [It was] such an East of Berlin moment.’ There are people who are affected by the legacy of the Holocaust even though they weren’t even alive when it happened… To me, the play in a larger sense is about how we are affected by the things that have come before us and are beyond our control.”

East of Berlin stars Jamie CavanaghAndréa Jorawsky, and Mathew Hulshof and plays at C-103 (8529 – Gateway Boulevard) from May 1 – 5, with a preview on April 30. Check out the full run schedule at YEGLive.ca. Tickets are $15 – 20 and can be bought at Tix on the Square.

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