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|A CurtainUp Review
The Action Against Sol Schumann
By Robert Hicks
Sol Schumann, a devout American Jew and caring father of two grown sons, is accused of atrocious crimes in his role as a kapo, a Jewish prisoner who forcefully (perhaps willfully) assisted in the brutalization of fellow Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps during WWII.
Sweet's play -- loosely based on the 1985 case of Jacob Tannenbaum, a Brooklyn resident tried for war crimes committed during WWII -- takes place in 1985. Germany is working very hard to "reenter the community of civilized nations." German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has invited President Ronald Reagan to visit a German cemetery in Bitburg to honor those who died in WWII. American Jews are outraged because Bitburg cemetery is also the burial place for some SS members from Nazi Germany. Schumann's son Aaron is one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal, despite the fact that many conscripted German soldiers buried at Bitburg did not willfully participate in WWII. Ironically, Aaron, who is so unforgiving toward Germany, must confront the ethical question of forgiveness concerning his father's unspeakable acts in Germany.
There are many thought-provoking ethical questions posed in Sol Schumann. What are the implications of selective persecution of war criminals? Will persecution of Sol Schumann and others like him increase anti-Semitism? Is the question of inherent racial superiority a moral dilemma for both Germans and Jews? Unfortunately, Sweet's play does not answer these questions. Sweet ultimately skirts these issues by not allowing his characters to resolve their moral dilemmas.
The play takes some interesting twists and turns in plot, character development, psychological profile and moral dilemmas. Sweet raises questions about the role of memory in persecuting war criminals in Nazi Germany. Actress Tandy Cronyn deserves special mention for her emotionally compelling portrayal of Rivka Glauer, a Canadian Holocaust survivor who is asked to testify on behalf of Sol Schumann. Sweet also poses the question of self-preservation as a defense for one's unwilling participation in evil. Actor Herbert Rubens garners praise here for vividly conveying the emotional turmoil felt by his character Sol Schumann.
In his script Sweet provides instructions to the play's director in his notes about the role of the Ensemble chorus as a group of actors who narrate the story cooperatively. In this regard, he cites Bertolt Brecht's influence. Like Brecht, Sweet has written a political play fraught with moral dilemmas. Unlike Brecht, Sweet does not allow his characters to confront these moral dilemmas and take an ethical and political stance on them. His play engages thought and is highly theatrical, but ultimately Sweet's characters still have lessons to learn from history and Sweet still has lessons to learn from Brecht.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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