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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Faith, Life, Schnapps and the Apocalypse Embraced in "The Last Hanukkah Christmas"



Matt Orme and Jamissa Spalding in The Last Hanakkuh Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Bunbury Theatre.

The Last Hanukkah Christmas

By Juergen K. Tossman
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright 2012, Rachel White.  All rights reserved.

An aging holocaust survivor confined to a wheel chair, Klaus Klurman (Matt Orme) finds himself trapped in his basement with no knowledge of how he got there on Hanukkah Christmas.  Also with him is his former student and friend, Hyman Goldstein (Juergen K. Tossman), who is dead. When Klaus tries to escape the basement, Goldstein dryly points out that Klaus cannot go up the basement steps in his wheel chair. It’s a nifty little trap the author has created for Klaus. He is now a captive audience to the ghosts of his past, limburger cheese and apparently anyone who wants to escape the apocalypse that happens to be going on outside.

I came into The Last Hanukkah Christmas completely unaware that it was a series, but from hearing the audience’s reactions and their seeming familiarity with the story I soon picked up on it. I won’t say it didn’t take a lot of work and listening to understand who was who, but I got it.

The first act of the play is pretty engaging, and it’s always exciting to bear witness to a new play on opening night. The basement set is spare, but it is detailed with the odds and ends of Klaus’s life, which makes it feel like it belongs to someone specific. Klaus and Hyman are strong characters, and they joke around and share stories together. It is clear that they are old sparring partners, and their relationship as mentor and student is rich and compelling. There is a sense that they need something from one another. The plot is then further complicated by Klaus’s fear of death, the question of whether or not this is all Klaus’s hallucination, and of course the impending 2012 apocalypse.    

This is where things got a little messy in terms of story structure.  As the second act unfolds, the apocalypse comes into full swing and friends of Klaus begin showing up in the basement seeking shelter from the events transpiring outside. These characters include Greeda (Alyssa Tyne), a pregnant ex-prostitute; a cheerful albeit slow southern bumpkin, Fred (Mike Burmester); and an old family friend, Twilight (Jamisa Spalding).  They come in cheerfully bearing gifts of bread, schnapps and Limburger cheese. Klaus gives them advice, shares stories with them, and enjoys their company. But the plot – the reason why these characters are here, why they need each other – seemed to get lost. 

Part of the problem is that the question of how these characters found their way to Klaus’s basement and why they seem unsurprised by the doom spreading outside is never addressed. Characters seem unfazed by the fact that the world might end tonight. Had the reality of the apocalypse been embraced, the questions of faith, religion and how we treat ourselves, our unborn and each other would have come to the surface in a natural way as they often do in times of crisis and high emotion. 

As it is, characters seem to come and go as needed without a lot of difficulty or motivation, and this make potentially powerful moments seem overly trite or out of place.

There are some rich possibilities within the play, and what the author does well is introduce new and interesting conflicts into the mix. However, a lot of these didn’t get developed or were passed over, so their significance was lost.   

In one moment, Klaus advises Greeda, almost pleads with her, not to drink while pregnant to give her baby a chance. There was something there that the writer was really feeling, but the girl takes Klaus’s advice so quickly and without question that the scene felt unbelievable.

It seemed that Klaus had many things to teach these people. And my question became, What could he learn from them? The holocaust survivor is symbolic as the one who has witnessed ultimate horror. But what about the pregnant ex-prostitute?  What about the others?  The cheerfully dull country boy?  Is there more to them?  It made me wonder if they too had something to teach as well as to learn during what is (hopefully) not our last Hanukkah Christmas season.


The Last Hanukkah Christmas

December 13-23
Bunbury Theatre
at The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 585-5306
www.bunburytheatre.org
bunburytheatre@gmail.com



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