Monday, April 17, 2017

Berlin Diary—hand2mouth—NW Portland

Lost Memories

This two-character play, based on real life incidents, is written by Andrea Stolowitz, directed by Jonathan Walters and co-produced by CoHo Productions.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through April 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.hand2mouththeatre.org

Memories are tricky things.  Sometimes things you thought happened, actually never did; sometimes they are buried and/or are too dramatic to recall; and some are simply imagined.  Family angst and dysfunction are also very complicated things, as they are often based on childhood memories of wrongs, real or imagined.  Keeping a diary is one way of keeping memories fresh…but what if important things are deliberately kept out of it like, in Stolowitz’s case, the fate of relatives during a major event called, the Holocaust!

Perhaps the most famous diary of that era was from a pre-teen, Jewish girl named, Anne Frank, who died in the camps with most of her family.  But even in all her anguish, her words of wisdom toward the end were most remarkable, as she wrote that she still thought “…people are basically good.”  Amazing!  “Out of the mouth of babes…”  But, in this case, the Berlin Diary is not quite so specific, and yet, when you dig deeper, it reveals not so much what was said but what was left…unsaid.

The character of Stolowitz is divided into two characters as she tells the story of her discoveries.  Damon Kupper and Erin Leddy play her split personalities, as well as all the other characters she encounters, including the author of the diary, Dr. Max, one of his patients with a “pressing” problem, various relatives of hers and voices from the past.  These transitions are all done with the very minimum of props…a shawl here, glasses, maybe, and slight changes in voice patterns and posture.  All brilliant!

It seems records at the time were scarce in some cases and even misleading.  Records or births and deaths were also elusive.  But the one thing that was clear, was that her family was scattered and really had little contact with each other and, whenever they did, they usually were at odds.  There had to be a reason.  Was there a family secret that was being covered up?  A hidden trove in the closet somewhere?  A missing link there was…but what?

What she did discover was that her relatives were incommunicado when it came to talking of the past in Germany.  She also found out that many Jews from Israel and other countries were moving back to Germany, the homeland of many of their relatives.  Her kinfolk, who died there, wished to leave a legacy for the living, the survivors.  But the legacy she discovered from her family was all but obliterated.  Why?  It was only when a hidden postscript to the diary surfaced that she would decipher the last bit of the puzzle.  Obviously, to tell more, would give away discoveries an audience should make….

The play itself works like a good mystery, slowly sucking you into what, on the surface, seems like a fairly ordinary story.  But, as it progresses, little nuggets arise and the plot thickens.  Soon it has you engulfed in the happenings and, in the end, perhaps moved by them.  Walters has done a very good job of keeping the story moving, as well as characters and incidents clear, not an easy task, given the circumstances.  And the two actors, Kupper and Leddy, are terrific!  They are not only competing entities in the same consciousness but also play a whole raft of characters she encounters on her journey.  How they kept them straight in their own heads would be a story in itself, I’m sure.  (Perhaps the very good animated movie, “Inside Out,” would give you some idea of dueling factions inside us.)

I recommend this play, especially for the amazing talent onstage, both acting and writing.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.