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Danielle Aziza, Brandon Olson, Jeanne Lauren Smith in "Rechnitz." Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.
By Elfried Jelinek
Directed by Ildiko Nemeth
New Stage Theatre Company
36 West 106th St. NYC
Reviewed April 20th, 2018 by Larry Litt
A sea of soliloquies floating on an ocean of collective excuses and denials forcing a memory of horror not to exist. Yet horrors always come back to haunt the dreams and imaginations of the creators of evil. All that is good rarely keeps us awake. We sleep in peace. Others wrestle with their evils while shame grabs their minds like a bear trap leaving them screaming for absolution.
Rechnitz is that scream. A theatrically muffled public scream by racially superior men and women hiding their minds’ hidden truth in an agony of delusion. Their stories aren’t clear and absolute. There may or may not have been an end of the war Nazi era massacre. People who were there perhaps weren’t there. The Dead may have been already dead or about to die. Was it a mercy killing or a crime against humanity? Did it give these perfected nobilities pleasure or did they incur so much pain their minds went blank, selective amnesia afterward, post shock trauma on their trial days. Or it’s a cover up of complicities to the easy violence racism pressures upon victims.
Playwright Elfriede Jelinek’s Nobel Prize winning script as translated by Gitta Honneger is a poetic masterpiece for actors. They can display the courage of hungry children who won’t tell which of them stole the teacher’s apple. They try not to look guilty but their faces belie their nervous words. If they don’t tell they’re all guilty. If they do tell then collective guilt will reign from then on.
This guilt is spoken as poetic magical incantations by a well defined ensemble cast of character “messengers” whom Jelinek calls her thrill killers. Brandon Lee Olsen, Theodore Bouloukos, Justin Ivan Brown, Renee Erikson, Brian Linden, Isobel Roth and Jeanne Lauren Smith are an onstage family of conspirators who depend on each other to keep themselves alive and sane. Whether they personally admit to their participation is not the question. Are they war criminals, decadent aristocrats who crossed the line of civility? Since no one will speak directly to their secret all that is left is a lie. That is their downfall. Yet they continue to live, haunted by ghosts just as their village of Rechnitz will forever be a place of phantoms.
Rechnitz is a serious play about historical memory that maintains that all history, all memory is in fact a conspiracy of perpetrators. I was glad to be reminded of that in these ‘fake news’ times. Ildiko Nemeth’s direction on this intimate stage is full of upfront and in your face blocking and action. I was almost ready to shout “Liar!” as one of the actors told his version of the events. I highly recommend Rechnitz as a uniquely provocative night out.
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