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A CurtainUp Review
The Gathering
The Gathering On Broadway
Hal Linden and Max Dworin Hal Linden & Max Dworin
When I reviewed The Gathering during its Off-Broadway run at the Jewish Rep's then 91st Street home, it coincided with a life-imitating art confrontation between the chief Rabbi of Poland and the Pope. The play's move to Broadway is again timely in the sense that it is part of a New York season when various aspects of the Holocaust have been presented-- revivals ofJudgment at Nuremberg, Race, a dramatized reading of Otto Klemperer's memoir and quite differently in the smash hit musical, The Producers. (see Links below)

The Broadway production of The Gathering has a brand-new cast and set. Unfortunately Rebecca Taylor, who also directed the original, has not managed to overcome the play's problems. I'll therefore let the original review, stand and comment briefly on the new staging and cast. (The first review is posted at the end of these notes).

Hal Linden dishes up the mix of schmaltz and rage as deftly as Theodore Bikel did. Young Max Dworin is even more precocious than the original boychick. If the circle of kvelling grandmas surrounding him outside the stage door at the matinee I attended are any indication, his acting future is assured, hopefully in better plays. Deidre Lovejoy, a fine actress, does better than her best as the Christian wife whose conversion includes learning to set a Sabbath table groaning with dishes the "American Heart Association would frown on". Miss Taylor's bent for heavy-handedness is most evident in the way she's directed Sam Guncler to insure that noone would miss that there's more to the father-son tension than meets the eye in act one. She has the actor practically vibrate with frustration as the assimilated Republican speechwriter who's still scarred by his father's not having heard what was apparently the most important speech of his life, his own Bar Mitzvah speech. Coleman Zeigen is unlucky enough to make his Broadway debut as the play's most unbelievably written character. Much as his German soldier to end all good Germans is never more than Gabe's stick-figure debating partner in the play-turned-lecture.

To make what is essentially a play best suited to a small stage (like the Jewish Rep) fit its larger Broadway home, the director and her set designer, Michael Anania, have transformed the erstwhile single set into a turn-table affair. Instead of Gabe's apartment at stage left, the dinner scene center stage, and the Bitburg scene at stage right, three separate sets now turn making the scene changes less rather than more seamless. Worse still, we now have a proscenium and back panels of gray marble that evoke images of graves -- adding a visual cliche to all the others.

The play takes its title from the gathering of survivors of Dauchau which Gabe describes to the German soldier. I'm afraid, Mr. Shaw isn't going to gather a large enough audience to make this well-intentioned play a Broadway hit.

I Will Bear Witness
Judgment at Nuremberg
The Producers

by by Arje Shaw
Directed by Rebecca Taylor
WITH: Hal Linden (Gabe), Max Dworin (Michael), Deirdre Lovejoy (Diane), Sam Guncler (Stuart) and Coleman Zeigen (Egon).
Set Design: Michael Anania
Lighting Design: Scott Clyve
Costume Design: Susan Soetaert
Sound Design:T. Richard Fitzgerald
Running Time: 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission.
Cort, 138 W. 48th St., (6th/7th Avs)(212) 239-6200
Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM -- $65 - $30.
$25 Student Rush tickets are available at the Box Office on the day of performance with valid student identification. Cash Only.
To an early grave on May 13th -- after 12 previews and 24 regular performances.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

The Gathering 1999 Off-Broadway Production

Arje Shaw's play The Gathering, centers on a Jewish family -- the father a Holocaust survivor, his son a speech writer for President Ronald Reagan (his immediate boss, Pat Buchanan), a grandson about to celebrate his bar mitzvah. The dramatic trigger point exploding the uneasy father-son relationship is Reagan's planned visit to Germany's Bitburg Cemetery the last resting place not only of ordinary German soldiers but some notorious Nazis. The 1985 visit was a public relations ploy to help Helmut Kohl get reelected as Chancellor.

The day after the play opened at the Jewish Repertory Theater, The chief Rabbi of Poland, a Holocaust survivor, confronted Pope John Paul II in Warsaw demanding the removal of a large cross at the walls of Auschwitz. The interchange in which the Rabbi addressed the Pope as "Mr. Pope" was televised live, shocking many Polish viewers and resurrected a painful issue that Catholic ad Jewish leaders in Poland had hoped to smooth over during the papal visit.

The incident was an unexpected reminder that despite the Pope's plea for unity and understanding, the wounds of World War II fester. Given the premise of The Gathering it also smacked of life imitating art. The uneasy relationship between the play's two central characters, father (Theodore Bikel) and son (Robert Fass), explodes when Gabe (Bikel) learns about Reagan's proposed visit to Bitburg.

Bikel's abrasive and volatile Gabe marks a sharp departure from the lovable stage personality of his best known character, Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof.  Like the real life Polish rabbi he refuses to see Germans generally and this visit in particular in any colors other than black and white. His son's willingness to accept this politics as usual situation as part of his job is totally unacceptable.

Being the fine actor he is, Mr. Bikel makes the most of the Tevye-like humor and warmth Mr. Shaw has provided at least for the first act and especially in some of the scenes with his young grandson (endearingly played by Jesse Adam Eisenberg). He also manages to engage our emotions during the melodramatic but, alas, unconvincing finale. However, neither Bikel or the capable supporting cast can make art out of what is essentially a cliche ridden polemic masquerading as a powerful family drama. Mr. Shaw, whose own father escaped from Poland in 1939 but without his mother and sister, has used the historic and justifiably rankling Bitburg event to air a melange of other issues -- religious rites of passage that have metamorphosed into showy parties, intermarriage, survivor guilt and forgiveness. By trying to say it all, he hobbles his characters, making them mouthpieces rather than flesh and blood, memorable individuals.

In his best selling novel The Reader author Bernhard Schlink also focuses on the hard to heal wounds of World War II. He succeeds, as Shaw does not, in weaving together the complex threads of the awakening of a young boy's sexuality and social consciousness. Instead of hammering us on the head with polemics, he tells his story simply and suspensefully. By contrast, Mr. Shaw, puts forth his ideas with a two by four, as if afraid we couldn't possibly "get it".

It begins in Gabe's New York apartment and studio (he's a sculptor currently working on a head of Muhammed Ali whom he great admires) and moves on to Friday night sabbath at his son's house. The Bar Mitzvah boy and his mother (Susan Warrick Hasho), a convert to Judaism, are caught between the father and son whose surface disagreement about the decorations and theme of the forthcoming Bar Mitzvah is a set up to bowl you over with surprise when the roots of the tension are revealed. The second act takes us to Bitburg where grandpa has brought his beloved boychick for quite a different Haf Torah reading. At this point the dramatic arc heats up only to become entangled in yet another debate, this one with a young German (Peter Hermann doing his utmost to represent the entire universe of young Germans).

As one woman I overheard at the end of the play said, "He had me shed a few tears, but I expected to see a play, not a lecture." That other Jewish patriarch Tevye couldn't have summed it up better.

By Arje Shaw
Directed by Rebecca Taylor
Starring Theodore Bikel with Jesse Adam Eisenberg, Robert Fass, Susan Warrick Hasho and Peter Hermann
Set design: Robert Joel Schwartz
Costume design: Susan L. Soetaert
Lighting design: Scott Clyve
Sound design: Jeremy M. Posner
Music by Andy Stein
Jewish Repertory Theatre at Playhouse 91, 316 E. 91 St. (212/ 831-2000 )
Previews 5/29/99-6/09/99;opening 6/10/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on 6/09 performance

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