Regional Reviews: San Francisco
David Wiltse's The Good German One of the Most Powerful Dramas of the Year
The Good German takes place in a German city during the Nazi era, from 1939 through to the final days of the Third Reich. Respected German scientist Karl (Warren David Keith) is asked by his wife Gretel (Anne Darragh) to hide a Jewish man in their home. Gretel sympathizes with the patient Wilhelm Braun (Brian Herndon), whose wife and child were recently killed and whose home was burned down by the Nazis. Karl is very reluctant to harbor a Jew even though he thinks himself somewhat of a liberal, since one of his best colleagues was a Jew, though he is no longer at the institute (actually, Karl took over as head of the science department after the Jewish scientist "disappeared.") However, Gretel convinces her husband to accept Braun as a guest just at the start of World War II. They both agree to hide the Wilhelm's Jewish heritage from their friends, including Karl's best friend Siemi (Darren Bridgett), a rising star in the Nazi bureaucracy.
Karl makes quite a few shocking remarks about Jews and their lifestyle to Braun. The professor has equal disdain for Hitler and his government, which is destroying the German heritage of arts and science. This hesitant agreement leads to a personal struggle with his own secret intolerance and a conflict with his best friend Siemi. The two-act two-hour drama attempts to tell how the professor can handle the dilemma during the four-year period of the war.
Gretel is murdered by the Gestapo as she is running away from a secret meeting at the hospital. Although Karl has no great love for his guest's Jewish heritage, he honors his commitment to his now deceased wife. Both Karl and Wilhelm forge a fragile and volatile bond after Gretel's death.
The play's second act contains brilliant confrontations among the three surviving characters. The increasing catalyst is epitomized by Siemi, who has been recruited by the Nazis for his administrative skills. He starts out as a weak and nervous little man who is appalled by the violence of the Nazis, but as the play proceeds he is caught up in the Nazi propaganda against the Jews. He finds out that Braun is a Jew and even as the allies are closing in on the German city during the last days of the war, Siemi believes in "The Final Solution." The last scene is an outstanding confrontation based on "logic" among the three men.
David Wiltse's script does contain minor weakness, such as the unresolved questions of why was Karl's wife running from the Nazis after the meeting in the hospital, and why were the Nazis so trustful of Karl even after the death of Gretel. One very crucial mistake occurs at the end of the first act when Karl and Braun have a physical conflict and Braun is thrown out of the house. Yet, at the beginning of the second act, both are getting along together like "The Odd Couple."
The four cast members give powerful performances. Warren David Keith (Indiscretions and Life x 3) plays Karl's superiority and stubbornness marvelously. Brian Herndon (Learned Ladies of Park Ave) gives an excellent performance as the very nervous Wilhelm. The confrontations between the two are unyielding.
Darren Bridgett (The Last Schwartz, Fortune) is superb, and changes from tense insignificant person in the first act to a strong man full of the Nazi doctrine at the end of the drama. He gives a hysterical performance when he describes how he was made to kill homosexuals by his Nazi superiors. Bridgett's last scene on the three men's war of words is brilliant acting at its finest. Anne Darragh (Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors, Communicating Doors) gives a compassionate performance in her brief time on stage. I only wish she had not disappeared from the drama at such an early stage.
Melpomene Katakalos' set sign is an excellent detailed living room one might find in an upscale German home during the 1940s. The costumes by Taisia Nikonishchenko are perfect for the era. Darren, with a German crewcut and dressed as a German businessman, is just right. Michael Palumbo's lighting progressively gives the space a closeted air as each German confronts the other. Chris Houston has written a melancholy score that is appropriate to the drama.
The Good German runs through April 15th at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets please call 415-388-5208 or online at www.marintheatre.org.