“How do people become vershollen, lost, like library books?’
Artists Repertory Theatre has just released its latest audio drama, The Berlin Diaries by Portland playwright Andrea Stolowitz.
In the late 1930s, the playwright’s great-grandfather kept a journal for his descendants after escaping to New York City in 1939 as a German Jew. Fascinated by the journal, Stolowitz begins a search for the ancestors her great-grandfather mentions in his writing. Who, for example, is Hermann Weigart, and what’s this stuff about his hemorrhoids? Stolowitz wants to know everything! Her immediate kin are not the least bit intrigued. “The past is the past” they say. “Let it be.”
Perhaps they don’t want to know, because the story of Jews in Nazi Germany is not a pretty one. Stolowitz’s research bears this out as she learns it’s much easier to find out who died during the atrocities than it is to locate those who survived. And yet she persists, traveling to Berlin to bring her ancestors’ stories out of the archives and into the light, weaving together a tapestry of interesting people and their stories.
The creatives at Artists Rep took the play to the next level, using a bifurcated narrative featuring actors Miriam Schwartz and Michael Mendelson directed by Damaso Rodriguez, with original music and sound design by Rodolfo Ortega. As the audience listens to the audio, a wonderful slideshow of ancestor photos and even pages from Max Cohnreich’s diary scroll by, enhancing the narrative.
“Working to transform The Berlin Diaries into an audio drama was an exciting opportunity to look at the central conflict of the script and imagine it in a new medium,” says playwright Stolowitz, who is Lacroute Playwright-in-Residence at Artists Rep. “It was a moving and artistically fulfilling experience that has created an entirely new and inventive way of engaging with this autobiographical story about the legacy of historical events on individual lives, in this case my own family’s grappling with the legacy of genocide.”
The Berlin Diaries is available for streaming now at Artists Repertory Theatre. Basic tickets are free; premium tickets are available on a sliding scale and include bonus material not included with the basic.