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January 15, 2016  RSS feed
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Play: What if 6 million Jews were invited back to Germany?


Noted American playwright Israel Horovitz, far right, along with the director and cast of “Lebensraum” at a post-play discussion following the opening of the show in Tampa. Noted American playwright Israel Horovitz, far right, along with the director and cast of “Lebensraum” at a post-play discussion following the opening of the show in Tampa. Seventy years after the Holocaust, a German chancellor has agreed to allow 6 million Jews to cross the border into Germany as a sign of reparation. Jewish families contemplate making the move while German families debate the consequences of allowing a flood of immigrants into the country.

That’s the essence of Lebensraum, a 1997 play by internationally known playwright Israel Horovitz, who was in Tampa for a week to shepherd in his play at the Jobsite Theater, the resident company at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Horovitz and Jobsite artistic director David Jenkins began a collaboration last year with the staged reading of Horovitz’s play Sins of the Mother. The two intend to work on projects together annually.

Israel Horovitz Israel Horovitz Horovitz has written more 70 plays including Line, now in its 39th consecutive year Off-Broadway. His screenwriting credits include James Dean starring James Franco and Author! Author!, a mostly biographical movie with Al Pacino. Horovitz, 76, is the father of Beastie’s Boy, Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz.

Lebensraum, with a theme seemingly ripped from today’s headlines, exposes the differences between the “new” and “old” Jews, German nationalism and guilt, and the apathy of a younger generation that connects them all.

During a 30-minute talkback after the opening night performance Jan. 8, Horovitz said the idea of writing Lebensraum (German for “living space”) came to him after he was invited to visit an opening for another one of his plays being performed in Germany. After his manager commented it was the eighth time he had invited Horovitz to no avail, the playwright began to consider his own personal bias against the country.

Horovitz told the audience he didn’t want to tell his manager that he had grown up with a fear that Germans would come through the window to kill him. When he finally arrived in Germany, he met with a young German interpreter named Miriam, who had never met a Jewish person before.

He thought about how, if Miriam’s entire generation did not know a single Jew – if Jews were only an abstract concept for them – and the nation was suddenly flooded with Jews due to the guilt about the Holocaust, “her generation at some point would say these abstract Jews are really giving me a pain in the ass … and it could all start again,” said the playwright.

Horovitz said that he always wanted the play to be done by only three actors as it is being performed here. He felt the play required a “trick” to bring in a more diverse audience and not only those who are drawn to Holocaust stories.

Also a fan of transformative acting, Horovitz said that he was fascinated by the ability of actors to shift from one character to another, using just a slight hitch in his or her walk or a change in mannerisms.

“I knew that nobody, even back then, would ever want to see a play about the Holocaust. It just was a way to guarantee that no one would buy a ticket. I really had to find some theatrical invention for the play, so that it would be entertaining and make its point.”

Ned Averill-Snell, Derrick Phillips and Katrina Stevenson were the actors who tackled a multitude of roles: playing a young family from Massachusetts, a teaching faculty at a prestigious university, and dockworkers protesting the loss of their jobs.

Horovitz praised them, calling the night’s performance “as good as it gets.”

The play’s director, Jenkins, said the actors’ work within the Shimberg Theater - the Straz’s Center’s smallest “black box” theater with a seating capacity of 130 - was not without challenges. He ran to the back of the stage and showed the audience how close his head was to the stage lights, saying they wouldn’t have been able to use taller actors.

Averill-Snell shot back, “That’s how we got the job then.”

“There are a lot of limitations to this room,” said Jenkins. “We just like to think of them as opportunities.”

A woman in the audience raised her hand to ask the final question of the evening: How did Horovitz and Jenkins balance the comedy and seriousness of the play over the years; did they have to make any changes to keep it timely?

Jenkins mentioned the only changes made were a character’s last name and a reference to how long ago events had happened. As far as the timeliness of the play, Jenkins said nothing needed to change and referenced gay marriage as an example.

“One of the reasons I was so attracted to the script was the timeliness of it because there is a straight line there; we are talking about history and the idea that we continue to make mistakes, over and over,” said Jenkins. “We watch people deny gays marriage or the ability to adopt and we keep making excuses [for] how this is not relevant to the last time we marginalized people. When do we learn?”

Horovitz added, “The events of the world in recent time, in recent months and the past couple of years, have created this terrible immigration crisis around the world. And this play, to me now, and probably to you having just seen it, is just as much about immigration as it is about the Holocaust. This idea of, this fear of people coming and taking away what we’ve got, the absolute contrary to sharing and welcoming those who have less, it makes a hell of a mess,” said Horovitz.

Jenkins said it was discussions like these that help, “one epiphany at a time.”

The show runs through Jan. 31 and will feature two more talkback sessions.

The second talkback on Sunday, Jan. 17 featured Elizabeth Gelman, USF scholar and executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum. The third talkback will be Sunday, Jan. 24 and will feature representatives from the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) after the performance. Talkbacks are free and open to the public.

Tickets for the show are available for $28 at the Straz Center box office or online at

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