Can there ever be enough of “Never Again”?
It is 1985. Ronald Reagan’s White House has just announced a presidential visit to Germany where he will visit a war cemetery at Bitberg, final resting place of many notorious Nazis. A speechwriter, Stuart, the son of death camp survivor Gabe, will have to write a speech for his boss to deliver.
When Gabe learns of the intended visit and speech, he is furious. Unable to contain his anger, he absconds to Germany with his grandson Michael—who has been preparing to be bar mitzvahed—to planning confront Reagan in the cemetery.
Caught in the middle of this generational conflict between Gabe and his son is daughter-in-law, Tracy.
Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. Eventually there is a revealing confrontation between the men of three generations, the wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, and a guard at the cemetery who represents the new German youth.
If all this sounds heavy handed and overwrought, it is, but the play is reasonably stage worthy nevertheless. The great Theodore Bikel created the role of Gabe for its debut production.
The present company acts well, particularly young Khalil Leneus as the Bar Mitzvah boy. Playwright Arje Shaw, plays Gabe capably, and the remaining cast members deliver straightforward, effective performances. As the son, Edward Gattenberg has some fiery moments confronting Gabe on his own history of cruelty and hypocrisy.
All of this makes for a reasonably moving evening of theatre. But the script is essentially a rather clunky melodrama. It is reminiscent of made-for-TV movies of the ’70s and ’80s that tried too hard to be socially relevant. Like those efforts, “The Gathering” means well and makes good points, but the structure is, at best, creaky.
It is worth seeing for the importance of the themes, and the chance to watch an interesting actor/playwright star in his own work.
“The Gathering” continues at Live Oak Theatre in Berkley through August 20th. For further information, click here.
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“The Gathering” by Arje Shaw. Produced by Jewish Circle Theatre. Director: Joy Carlin. Sound: Chris Houston. Costumes: Tabatha Sartain.
Gabe: Arje Shaw. Michael: Kahlil Leneus. Diane: Tracy Camp. Stuart: Edward Nattenberg. Egon: Aaron Kichin.