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4 June 2006
I don't often get feedback on theatre reviews I've written, which is probably good because usually when people take the time to let you know what they think, it's because they disagree with you.
A couple of friends read my reviews and may comment or call me for the unexpurgated version of a review, but from the general populace, I rarely hear anything and I'm just as happy for it.
However, I received a phone call the other day that really confused me. I had reviewed a show called Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, which was a University production of one of the short stories by Polish novelist and painter, Bruno Schulz. It's really kind of a dream-like story which refers to death and the afterlife and is definitely an allusion to the Holocaust. But there is no real "plot" that you can describe.
I answered the phone and a woman said "I think you're the person who wrote the review about this Holocaust show." I said that I had written the review.
"I have a couple of question to ask you," she said, and then launched into her questions.
"Is this a student production?" she asked first. I acknowledged that the cast was mostly student, but that one cast member was on the faculty.
"Now...do they use accents?" she asked. I told her I didn't remember any accents seeming forced and couldn't, in all honesty, remember whether there were accents or not.
"What about clothes?" she asked. "What kind of clothes do they wear?" I was kind of confused by that question and explained that they just wore clothes of the period.
"You mean street clothes?" she asked. I said yes.
Then she said that I had mentioned "crowding into tiny spaces" and she wanted to know what that meant. She didn't let me give my complete answer, but seemed concerned when I mentioned that they had placed seating on the stage rather than in the cavernous theatre, to reduce the distance between action on stage and the audience.
I had also mentioned the use of "smoke cannisters" and she wanted to know what I meant by that. I explained that Walt (as a theatre technician) had pointed out that the thick smoke which was used occasionally couldn't have come from a "fog machine," but had to have come from smoke cannisters instead in order to produce such instantaneous thick smoke.
Then came a strange question. "Now, I read the names of the actors in your review," she said, "and I didn't see any Jewish names. Are any of the actors Jewish?"
I explained that I hadn't asked the ethnicity of any of the actors! I added (as it turned out, unhelpfully) that the director was from Poland.
"Well, that doesn't mean anything," she scoffed. "A lot of Polish people aren't Jewish."
Well, excuuuse me.
It turns out that she seems to be vehemently opposed to the Holocaust being used for entertainment. She has friends who had family members who died in the Holocaust. I was trying to be polite, but I couldn't figure out what she wanted from me.
I did happen, however, to find a topic where we could come to a common ground. I mentioned having seen Nobel Prize winning author and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel on Oprah's show, where the two of them visited Auschwitz. She had seen the program, too, and so we talked about how much -- or how little -- people of my children's generation (and younger) really know about the Holocaust and how, whether this particular production appealed to her or not, I felt that it would be valuable for younger people to see, in order to keep the memory of what happened in Germany alive.
We then talked about the message of the Holocaust: "Never Again," and how little we had learned from it, how hollow those words were when we think of the holocausts which took place in Rwanda and Congo and going on now in Darfur. I commented that it appeared that the world seems to think ethnic cleansing is only worth being incensed about (no pun intended) if those being slaughtered are white.
Ultimately, I encouraged her not to see the show, since she seemed negatively critical of every single thing she talked with me about. It made me wonder why she called in the first place, since she was obviously so dead set against every aspect of this show. Why bother even asking questions, if you know you're not going to like it?
Fortunately, I don't get calls like that very often. And I've never received one quite this bizarre.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
I really miss being by the Indian Ocean.