Saturday, June 23, 2018
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Review: Moving 'Lebensraum' at Jobsite engages the mind

TAMPA

Two mega events in Lebensraum, a play by Israel Horovitz currently at Jobsite Theater, are true.

Systematic genocide before and during World War II wiped out 6 million Jews. Descendants of the perpetrators have been grappling with the "German Question" ever since: How was Auschwitz possible?

The rest of the story is fictional. A German chancellor awakens from a transformational nightmare around 2000 with a solution: Germany will open its doors to 6 million Jews from anywhere. They will get citizenship and jobs.

Three actors play some 60 roles, each taking turns to narrate the action. Derrick Phillips, Ned Averill-Snell and Katrina Stevenson play one character at a time, so the multiplicity of roles is not as busy as it may seem. They make delightful use of a handful of props (designed by Jobsite's producing artistic director David Jenkins, who also directed the show ) and do a lot of heavy lifting to make it work.

The production does work, and an intellectually engaging script throws in a dash of humor to help its message go down. That doesn't mean seeing Lebensraum is easy. It moves at a fast pace and takes the audience to some dreary places, including the darkest holes in the psyche of a Buchenwald survivor. That's uncomfortable and it's supposed to be.

That said, Lebensraum is not a binary sermon. Both the impulses toward healing the German guilt and the impossibility of doing so with a simple magnanimous gesture are presented. Two of the central characters, both played by Averill-Snell, are Mike Linsky, an unemployed American dockworker and the lifelong German dockworker whose job Linsky takes.

Lizzie Linsky, Mike's wife, is reluctant at first to leave Gloucester, Mass., for Germany. By doing so, she says, they would become like the very people who get sideways glances at the local convenience store.

"We would be like immigrants," she says. Exactly. Instead, the likable Linskys and their son Sammy become instant celebrities. Politicians and the media celebrate "Project Homecoming" without having to bear the consequences of massive layoffs in a country already torn by unemployment. At the same time, the absurdity of applying a Band-Aid solution to the Holocaust lies parallel with the generosity in at least of making the attempt.

The dozens of stories told in Lebensraum (including an ill-fated romance between Sammy and the laid off German dockworker's daughter) take place on a three-level set of bare lumber walkways by Brian Smallheer, suggestive of rough transitions.

Of the actors, Stevenson most clearly defines each character, from Lizzie to Sammy's love interest to an upper-class German woman who hires the concentration camp survivor as a caregiver to her elderly mother. But all three have their moments and have put their shoulders to the wheel in a massive effort.

While most of the play does without music, a strings interlude plays when the actors briefly step back as narrators to emphasize that the atrocities of the Holocaust were aided and supported by normal people. People, in other words, like us. It might be the strongest point made in Lebensraum, and is certainly one of the most moving.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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