Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Big wars do not really end when the armistice is signed. They engender countless small wars, and the story told in the very good play DeliKateSSen is of those small wars, both internal and external, that did not end on VE-Day in 1945. The consequences of being unable to forget and forgive can be dreadful indeed.
The Shapiro brothers, David and Yossi, were youths in Belarus when they were sent to a concentration camp. They survived with their bodies intact, if not their psyches. The revelation of how they survived is one of the dramatic high points in the play and not to be divulged here. They have ended up in New York City and own a deli that does a pretty good business. Both brothers have a wife and children. Not much to complain about, but it doesn't take long for things to start going south.
Their delivery driver Manny, who isn't Jewish, is beaten into a coma, presumably because the delivery van had a Star of David on it. Then a German named Klaus Reinhardt opens a biergarten directly across the street from the deli. For David Shapiro, this cannot be by chance. There must be malicious intent behind it, and Reinhardt, if that really is his name, must have been a Nazi until proven otherwise. David hires Yaakov Zeiman, a famous Nazi hunter, to dig up dirt on Reinhardt, and refuses to accept that there is no evidence linking him to the Nazis.
And what about the old man, Franz Becker, who shows up at the deli and romances Miss Schneider, one of the regular customers? He claims he is from Austria, but so was Hitler. And what's going on with David's teenage daughter Rachel, who starts the play as a "normal" young woman but then becomes increasingly moody, starts having trouble at school, and takes up with a sketchy boyfriend who gives her a black eye? Suddenly, David's world is completely falling apart, and much of it is his own doing. Unless you are more astute than I am, you will not be able to predict where this play will go, but don't expect a happy ending when people are damaged beyond repair.
Maybe this sounds like too much is being crammed into one play, but that's not the case at all. Richard Atkins' script flows smoothly and quickly, with natural-sounding dialogue, nothing phony. There is one rather horrifying dream sequence (a nightmare, actually), but the rest is well-done realism. Likewise the excellent set (I'm not sure who designed it, maybe the technical director Riley Lewis, who also did the very good lighting), and the fine projections by Norm Fletcher.
Richard Atkins not only wrote the play but directs it as well. He has brought together an excellent cast. Some of the actors are returning from a previous production, and some are new. Atkins plays the lead role of David, and he is as good an actor as he is a playwright, and that means very good. Annelise Wall, who is one of the best young actors in town, is perfect as Rachel. Cheryl Atkins, Scott Claunch, Salome Martinez Lutz, Ray Orley, and Harry Zimmerman all contribute fine performances, but the standout is Justin Raper as Klaus Reinhardt, partly because it's the showiest of the supporting roles, but mainly because he's just so damn good at it.
This is the second time I've reviewed DeliKateSSen. The first time was in April 2015. Since then, it has been performed a few times around the country with ongoing dramaturgy by Mark Medoff, the well-known playwright, who was a New Mexico resident and died earlier this year. Since a time period of more than four years has gone by, it's hard for me to compare the original to this iteration. This seems to be a tighter script. The one drawback is that a major event that occurs near the end of the play has so little foreshadowing that it essentially comes out of nowhere, whereas, if my memory serves me, in the 2015 version this event was built up to, with palpable suspense.
I do know that I enjoyed this play both times that I have seen itenjoyed not in the sense of having a good time, but the enjoyment that comes from seeing a well-crafted, well-plotted, well-acted piece of theater. There is one thing that has been dropped from the previous version that should not have been dropped. There was a projection of a quote by Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." I cannot think of a better epigraph for this fine play.
DeliKateSSen runs through November 24, 2019, presented by Group 9 Productions at North 4th Arts Center, 4904 4th Street NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday 8:00, Saturday and Sunday 2:00. Tickets are $10 to $13. For tickets and information, visit https://www.delikatessen-theplay.com.