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A HARD DAY IN THE THIRD REICH
Karl Kenzler and Tasha Lawrence in "All My Children." Photo by Maria Baranova.
“All Our Children” by Stephan Unwin.
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
The Sheen Center
18 Bleecker St., NYC.
April 6- May 12, 2019.
Tues.–Thurs. 7 PM; Fri.–Sat. 8:00; Sat., 2 PM; Sun. 3 PM.
$67-82. Tickets: 866-811-4111.
Reviewed by Glenda Frank
The pediatrician (Karl Kenzler) is having a hard day. He did not get much sleep last night and he has a bad cough. And he’s a little intimidated by the self-assured Eric (Sam Lilja), the Deputy Director of Administration of the hospital and a fervent National Socialist. But Martha (Jennifer Dundas), his maid and a mother of two, is as solicitous as ever. She even brings him Dutch coffee – “Is it the real thing?” he asks – and announces that a woman who stopped by to see him will return. You can feel the storm clouds forming.
Eric returns with a folder of 32 cases for Dr. Franz to sign off on. Yes, yes, yes, he says, but only to 29 patients, who will leave on the buses with their painted windows – so the good people will not be upset as the transport rolls by. We know where these disabled young Germans are headed, maybe not the name of the new facility but their fates. At one point someone calls it mercy killing, but Eric prefers to call it the Nazi plan for improving the race. No, they are not Jewish or Polish children. These are non-productive Germans whom the Third Reich considers too expensive -- for their own good. “What you do is important,” Eric reminds him.
“All Our Children” unfolds slowly, each visitor ratcheting up the stakes and pressure on the doctor, who founded the children hospital a dozen or so years ago to treat the epileptic, crippled, and brain-damaged. His new mission does not sit comfortably on his shoulders so he tries to shrug off reality. When Elizabetta Pilsner (Tasha Lawrence) arrives with home baked good to thank the doctor and ask a favor, he shrugs. Regulations, he tells her, forbid her seeing her son -- ever. When the doctor discovers that Eric has seduced his loyal housekeeper’s 15 year old daughter, he informs Eric that the girl is underage and then he shrugs. But when Bishop von Galen (John Glover) argues from the pediatrician’s former moral stance, the doctor makes a decision.
Under the direction of Ethan McSweeny (Artistic Director of American Shakespeare Center), performances are crisp and believable. He enhanced the intimacy of the theatre at the Sheen Center by staging the play in the round, which transforms the audience into flies on the wall. The performances by Karl Kenzler (“Fiddler on the Roof”) as the physician and Jennifer Dundas (“Arcadia”) were especially convincing, but this is a cast of Broadway actors.
“All Our Children” runs 90 minutes, no intermission. The material is familiar and if you know the history, the play has no surprises, but the echoes of current events are chilling. The character of the mother of the disabled patient highlights the mixed feelings of ordinary people struggling under the burden of family obligations, war, and poverty. The comforting party line of a benevolent state is continually undercut by the rumors, and she wants the truth.
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