HMT Delivers Provocative ‘Lebensraum’ (4 Stars)

Lebensraum – Written by Israel Horovitz; Directed by Brett Marks; Presented by Happy Medium Theatre at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston through May 24th.

More than half a century after the Holocaust, modern day Germans continue to live under the specter of the sins of their forbearers. This is no secret. But it is mostly too uncomfortable to discuss in everyday life. With a fantastical premise, ‘Lebensraum’ takes this idea and runs with it; lifting the veil to examine what might happen if we were forced to confront these ghosts.

Happy Medium Theatre’s season closing production is an impressive dramatic feat, marrying modern social issues with stellar acting and compelling visuals. The premise: In an effort to restore the Jewish community and perhaps assuage his own guilt 60 years after the Holocaust (circa 2000), the German Chancellor announces a radical initiative: He invites six million Jews from anywhere in the world to come to Germany, complete with the promise of jobs and citizenship.

The results of such a radical social and economic experiment are predictably mixed. When first announced, the mere idea ignites long dormant hatreds from the most unlikely of places and youthful acceptance from others. Sudden social change has a tendency to bring out the best and the worst in people. Mixing elements of fantasy and modern day American challenges of immigration and unemployment, the Chancellor’s initiative is both a mirror to the past and a statement on the present.

The standout storyline is that of unemployed Gloucester dockworker Mike Linsky. After a little convincing, he and his ‘Shiksa’ wife take their teenage son and relocate to the Port city of Bremerhaven. Without giving too much more away, the family becomes an instant hit with the German media; Secular American Jews with a hard work ethic are the perfect poster children for the Chancellor’s efforts. They are just Jewish enough to meet the program requirements while being non observant enough to keep everyone comfortable.

The family’s journey forces them to examine what being Jewish really means to them, something they were not challenged with in the intermarried melting pot of the United States. At one point the affable Mike proclaims “I’m an American; I don’t have a morality position”. The starkest contrast of this is the sad clown holocaust survivor Max Zylberstein. He wears his otherness on his sleeve, and after 60 odd years of relocation in Australia, he takes advantage of the program to return to his homeland in an attempt to make peace with the chilling past that has haunted him since childhood.

Director Brett Marks makes the most of the small space, creating worlds and spaces on a stage the size of a small studio apartment. The dimly lit set provides a stark enough backdrop to make the near constant set changes within the show imaginable. R. Nelson Lacey, Audrey Lynn Sylvia and Michael Underhill are all excellent: Able to transform into a new character with the subtle shift of a new accent or accessory. Lacey in particular brings a vaudevillian spookiness to Zylberstein. The play’s only real weakness (at no fault to the cast) is that it could use some editing. It fails to properly flesh out the myriad of social ideas and 40 odd characters in a less than two hour span. Keeping track of all the personalities introduced is nearly impossible, particularly in the first half hour of the play.

Trivia fact: For those not pop-rap trivia savvy, famed playwright Horovitz is the father of Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. Be sure to pay attention to the nods to the band sprinkled throughout the narrative when you see this intelligent production in the next few weeks. For more info, go to: