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A CurtainUp Review
A Happy End
By Elyse Sommer
Not a good situation for people like Leah and Mark Erdmann (Carmit Levite and Curzon Dobell) who considered themselves as much German as Jewish. The beautiful Leah and her physicist husband Mark are not blind to the fact that Germans didn't like Jews any better than people everywhere else. But they consider and love Germany as their homeland, because anti-Semitism had not prevented Jews from thriving. For Leah that meant a rich cultural life. For Mark it brought renown as an atomic scientist.
We've heard countless stories about Jews who failed to believe that Hitler and his Nazis could ensnare the world in a long and devastating war and obliterate six million Jews with the "final solution." While Einstein fled, Freud lingered. Even people like Eli Wiesel's family, who lived in as yet unoccupied countries, refused to believe news about atrocities that made leaving the only rational action.
Mr. Nehanyahu, in several promotional interviews discounted the idea that people would be turned off by yet another World War II story. As he sees A Happy End it is neither a WWII or Holocaust story but an exploration of "how we perceive events around us, how we truly judge them and what role self-delusion might play in our most important decisions." In short, the much documented pre-WWII setting is intended to make the audience privy to what these characters should be doing; which in turn should ring an alarm bell about dangers still rampant in the world we live in.
The timing for the opening of Netanyahu's cautionary debut play is as ironic as its title. The play's opening coincided with his brother Prime Minister Benjamin Nehanyanu's controversial alarm bell ringing about the perils of modern anti-Semitism before Congress.
Actually Nethanyahu, the Prime Minister, has more of a gift for drama than Nethanyahu, the doctor and part-time writer. A Happy End, adds nothing new or compelling to staged and filmed WWII/holocaust stories. And, no matter what its intended genre, neither is it isn't an especially compelling play, no matter what its intended genre.
If you want to pin down the genre, this is primarily a marital drama. Cleah Erdmann is frustrated about unfulfilled theatrical ambitions and her husband Mark's over-involvement with his own soaring career. She keeps busy shopping (as illustrated by a mouth watering array of costumes in which Levite looks gorgeous), going to theaters and, you guessed it, having an affair with a younger man, Dieter Kraft (Joel Ripka). Dieter's being her husband's associate, the rare Aryan who's not anti-Semitic, and the play's ardent alarm bell ringer conveniently merges the Erdmann's marital problem with their stay and wait out "a happy end" dilemma.
The affair underscores how German Jews felt free to have close relationships. Nehanyahu inserts a touch of piquancy by not completely ignoring her awareness of the difference between them, and his lingering view about all Jews having money.
The three main characters, especially Levite, are all fine. Lori Gardner is also excellent as Erdmann's devoted secretary. If the playwright hadn't committed himself to fit the popular 90-minite format, Anna might have been more developed as the one character likely to be the one consistently Good German. A cameo between the Erdmann's teenaged son Hans (Phil Gilen) who unlike his father is interested in poetry rather than physics, and his girl friend is forced and stereotypical. The pigtailed Martha (Allison Siko) is as certain to become one of Hitler's youth corps as the Erdmann will end up in a concentration camp if they choose to stay.
As for the senior Erdmanns' dealing with their marital problem and stay-or-leave situation, this too suffers from being rushed in the interest of conciseness. They seem to live in a bubble with no mention of relatives, Jewish friends or colleagues. And, since a scientist's reasoning is realistic, Mark Erdmann's actions and reactions to events that go against delusionary optimism are hardly convincing.
Director Alex Dmitriev and his design team have created an attractive scene shifting environment. It's too bad that when the Erdmanns decide what their Happy End will be, we're likely to have stopped caring about them.