Twenty-seven years after the end of World War II, two families who had survived that conflict, one of them German Jews and the other German Nazis, fight a different kind of war on a street in Manhattan: the war of the delis. This is the core of a drama penned by a Sandia Park playwright and scheduled for a reading this weekend in Albuquerque.
The story could have been told as a comedy, however it is anything but; rather, it is an explosive tragedy in which old wounds bleed again onto 55th Street. That there is a beacon of hope, even potential salvation, at the end, does not dim the soul-destroying conflict between two families on the same street trying to sell sandwiches, salvage their self-respect and pay back for their history.
This description, while accurate in terms of plot, is dramatically misleading, for it implies a moral equality between the two families that does not exist on the stage; this is instead a drama that, for most of its length, pits good against evil in the starkest of terms.
The author has asked me not to give away the plot with too many specifics. Suffice it to say, that this play evolves as an almost classical tragedy. Its denouement is what you would expect it to be, and its characters’ fates are written large in their history.
Such is the substance of the new play DelikateSSen written and directed by Sandia Park’s Richard Atkins, who along with his wife has been the guiding light of the East Mountain Center for Theater. Mark Medoff, Tony award-winning New Mexico playwright, has collaborated on the production with the designation of dramaturge, which Atkins defined in an email as “general editor.”
The drama will receive a staged reading Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1 p.m. at the Vortex in Albuquerque, 2004 1/2 Central Ave. (247-8600). There is no charge to attend the performance, which includes nine actors. The action is interspersed with music and video images of quotations by and about the Holocaust, although Atkins noted that for this show the quotations will be read by the actors. After the performance, Atkins will discuss the play with members of the audience.
The cast includes Joe Alberti, Benjamin Liberman, Ray Orley, Sharon Sprague, David Bentley, Randy Wagner, Cheryl Atkins, Joel Miller, Arthur Alpert, Austin Dennis, Kristi Johnson and Michael Pierce.
With music, video images, a large cast and multiple scenes, the play is more ambitious than most written by New Mexico playwrights or performed on regional stages. But Atkins commented, “Given a qualified stage and technical crew, we could pull it off in a space like the South Broadway Cultural Center or some theatre spaces in Santa Fe. Some of the top regional theaters in the country have requested the script and are considering it. The play will also translate excellently into a motion picture, which I will be writing soon and pitching to HBO through one of their consultants.”
I see this play as an effort by Atkins to elucidate the awful cycle of genocide that we have repeatedly witnessed. The vile attempt of Germans to eliminate the existence of the Jewish people seemed to set a precedent for other efforts in the following decades: Serbs against Bosnians, Hutus against Tutsis, Balinese against Chinese, Arabs against Africans in Darfur, Sunnis against Shias. In all such cases, two peoples who were much alike in skin color, language and lifestyle, who had for centuries intermarried so extensively they appeared to be one people, who had found a way to get along and even like each other for generations, turned on each other. In each case slaughter evolved into genocide, and it did so with the cooperation and in fact instigation and facilitation of government.
Of course, the Nazis didn’t really start all this. Without benefit of lessons from the Nazis, the Turks did a fine job on the Armenians, the United States on the American Indians, the Spaniards and Portuguese on the natives of South America and, not to be forgotten, the effort of the north German Protestants and the south German Catholics to do each other in for more than 300 years from Martin Luther to Otto von Bismark.
Atkins’s own comment to me ran thus:
My impetus for writing the script was something my Jewish father once said to me, ‘The only good German is a dead German.’ I thought that was wrong, so I wrote a play around it. Also, I discovered that Himmler's daughter, Gudrun Himmler does in fact run a secret organization called Stille Hilfe which is a pro-Nazi organization which helps anyone who wore a Swastika in 1943 in any way she can. Also, the staggering number of Neo-Nazi groups in this country alone, let alone Europe, is frightening. The genocide and conflicts all over the world never seem to end. Assad and his genocide, etc. So what better topic than the grandest one to write a play about: Nazis, Germany, the Holocaust and the Aftermath. This play could be called ‘Aftermath.’
The line that stayed with me long after reading the play was delivered by a rabbi: “For in the end, hate could kill us all.”
Last month, a friend of mine, an elderly Jewish writer, walked through the streets of a German city on the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashanah and to her own surprise, suddenly burst into tears. Some things are forever.