Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Promenade Theatre, New York
Holocaust plays are ever with us, constantly cropping up on the New York stage. Hopefully, we'll never become inured to this. But every so often a play comes along with such a different take that one is shocked into new, intense feelings. "Address Unknown" is just such a play. There is an unexpected twist, and, at last, the good guy wins-if you want to call sweet revenge a victory.
What is "Address Unknown" about? Essentially, it is a correspondence, a series of letters between two men, which charts their relationship over a one-year period. Max and Martin, close friends as well as partners, own a thriving art gallery in San Francisco. (They had met during their student years in Germany). One is Jewish, the other German-born. It is 1932, and Martin returns with his family to his native land. At first the correspondence between the two is warm, friendly, as letters cover both business and family matters. Max is "Uncle Max" to Martin's children. But gradually the tenor of the letters change, as the once-liberal Martin evolves into a full-fledged Nazi.
Max continues to send letters, with enclosures of money, as the gallery paintings sell to wealthy Jewish matrons. But at a critical point in his evolution, Martin writes, "I want nothing to do with Jews, except to get the payments." How Max deals with this once dear friend is brilliant and ultimately extremely satisfying (for those of us not above enjoying sweet revenge).
This marvelous story has been around a long time--in fact, first appearing as a literary piece in Story Magazine in 1938. Kathrine Kressmann Taylor's "Address Unknown" was published a year later as a novel, which was banned in Nazi Germany but received high praise from the American critics. And in 1944 the novel was made into a film, featuring Morris Carnovsky and Paul Lukas.
But now an excellent new version of this story, in theatrical form, has opened at the Promenade Theatre off-Broadway. Director/adaptor Frank Dunlop stages the piece with quiet understatement, letting the material speak for itself. The two men, on opposite sides of the stage, sit at their desks, sip wine, toast each other, and occasionally cross over the imaginary line. Dunlop is blessed with the best of actors. Jim Dale as Max and William Atherton as Martin are at the top of their form. Though each is merely reading a series of letters, each manages to create a fully believable character.
All told, this is a must-see show. "Address Unknown" is in open run, and one hopes that it will stay at the Promenade for a long time to come.
-- Irene Backalenick