THEATRE | George Tabori's dark satire on Post-Holocaust Germany doesn't quite play as intended
A Neo-Nazi in a black leather trench coat runs around a graveyard, vandalizing headstones with swastikas and slurs. Suddenly, the dead stand up from behind those stones. Spooked, he runs away. The ghosts then talk amongst themselves, and with the audience. They tell the tragic stories of their deaths, and how they were persecuted for their religion or their sexuality. The time is twenty or so years after World War II, but the atrocities are still fresh for these people. Hitler is never far from people's lips, his actions and insecurities hanging over their afterlives.
Jubilee is the second of two George Tabori plays being produced at Theatre for the New City currently. The other being Mein Kampf, which was reviewed on this site last week. The deceased playwright's pre-occupations are very much plain to see: Jewish identity in relation to the Second World War. However, for a play that markets as satire, Jubilee sheds remarkably little new light on the subject matter. He recants, in devastating, flowing prose, the horror of concentration camps and Nazi experimentation, but never deigns to offer any fresh perspective on the subject. Instead we're treated to repeated Brechtian assurances that the holocaust was indeed bad. Which, to my knowledge, is not a fact most people are likely to contest any time soon.
"Tabori recants, in devastating, flowing prose, the horror of concentration camps... but never deigns to offer any fresh perspective on the subject"
Director Manfred Bormann's cast are all treading water in Tabori's occasionally laborious text. They strive for moments of levity, but due to either some kind of translation convention, or datedness in the writing, many of the jokes don't land. The result is a black comedy in which the comedy is sorely lacking. That just leaves the audience with the darkness, and there is only so much humanitarian horror that an audience can have repeated to them before clinical depression sets in.
Photos by Michael E. Mason
Structurally, this play is problematic, and, while structure is not the be all and end all of playwriting, it is most certainly noticeable here. Episodes of the dead people's lives are played out on the stage like clips on a severely nihilistic YouTube playlist. They are interspersed with occasional commentary and discussion that serves, largely, to make the characters onstage seem less human and relatable. Andrea Lynn Green is the MVP here, in that her character Mitzi is actually quite sweet and likable. Of all the stories we hear, her's is the one we are able to latch on to the most. Apart from this however, the play simply keeps on going, until suddenly it stops after a quick throwaway gag.
In summary, Jubilee is dry. Everything it is doing is admirable, but it is repetitive, and the subject has been explored more interestingly elsewhere. This may well be because of the play's age. While it may have been important work at its time of publishing, we have now lived through many re-tellings of the holocaust. Most people in the audience have likely experienced this style of recanting in a more evolved, more engaging form. The cast work hard, but much of the time it just feels like so many spinning wheels. Worth seeing if you're looking for something niche Off-Broadway, otherwise it may not be for you.
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