Lebensraum | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Lebensraum

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LEBENSRAUM, Trap Door Theatre. Israel Horovitz's Lebensraum will surely go down as one of the great missed opportunities in modern drama. The premise is ingenious: a newly elected German chancellor invites six million Jews to immigrate to his country in an effort to make restitution for the Holocaust. The questions Horovitz raises are sweeping: Do contemporary Germans bear collective guilt for the sins of their forebears? Will the legacy of the Third Reich forever cast Germans as monsters, at least potentially, and Jews as charity cases? Is atonement for the Holocaust possible, or does its gravity render any such effort meaningless?

Rather than fleshing out answers to these questions in complex political and psychological detail the way a great playwright like Joshua Sobel would, Horovitz opts for a lot of flash and punch. Employing the disposable narrative methods of tabloid television, he spends the first half of the play in two-minute sound-bite responses to the German plan, whisking his audience around the globe. Eventually he settles on the stories of a half dozen two-dimensional people caught up in the ensuing political turmoil, structuring his scenes so haphazardly that the idle flirtations of teenagers in love receive more stage time than a murderous uprising against repatriated Jews.

Trap Door's three cast members turn in some commendable performances, notably Eric Johnson, who's quietly become one of the city's most versatile actors. But in this scattershot evening their efforts go to waste.

--Justin Hayford

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