Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared by Simon Saltzman for the March 13, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Timely Indictment of Nazism
For those who missed last summer’s acclaimed New York production of
"Address Unknown," the George Street Playhouse is affording its
patrons a special opportunity to see it as staged by the esteemed
director Frank Dunlop, who adapted Kressmann Taylor’s novella for the
stage and directed the New York production. Although it was first
published in Story magazine in 1938, "Address Unknown" quickly became
a popular must-read a year later when it was published in book form by
Simon & Schuster. It achieved significant literary validation from the
New York Times – "the most effective indictment of Nazism to appear in
In 1939 it became the first fiction ever published by Reader’s Digest.
It was re-published in America by Story Press in 1995, by Washington
Square Press in 2001, and in 17 other languages worldwide since 1997.
Now Dunlop reveals what motivated him to come out of retirement and
turn Taylor’s searing 64-page novella into an important and gripping
"This play is not just about a Jew and German, it is about what is
happening now," insists Dunlop as we chat following a rehearsal. "I
first read the story in England about two years ago, and it was then
that I said it should be done as a play straight away in America. The
book is a wonderful bit of writing, so meticulous and also theatrical.
I was amazed that she didn’t try to develop it as a play. It took me
about six months to get the rights. I didn’t want to do just a
memorial to the Holocaust, although I have a good friend who survived
Auschwitz. This book and now this play show what people are capable of
As to the epistolary style of the book, I asked Dunlop if he
considered changing it. "No the family wouldn’t consider changing a
word, although Taylor’s son, who was left the literary rights,
eventually gave me permission to make some small changes, particularly
the ending. The whole family, including the grandchildren and
relatives, came in one big group to see the play in New York. They
live in New Jersey.
"Because it is a play about liberal values, it is important for young
people to see it. But I don’t think it is going to cure the general
malaise," says Dunlop.
When first published, "Address Unknown" was considered too forceful a
story at the time to be attributed to a woman. Taylor, a native of
Portland, Oregon, was obliged to change her real first name from
Kathrine to a male byline Kressmann (the combination of her maiden and
married surnames). She deemed her deception as necessary in the social
climate of the 1930s. But how would Taylor respond to the artful
deception that is currently being perpetrated by a so-called
democratic government whose bold initiatives are stealthily moving
closer to those that she was so motivated to expose?
Judging by the reviews and audience response, Dunlop’s play has
apparently rekindled in many a sense of urgency, particularly in the
light of recent international events and scary political trends in our
own country. These issues sparked the discussions that followed each
performance in New York and for which the majority of the audience
elected to stay. Although Dunlop says he was aware that the play had a
mostly liberal audience, he was made intensely aware of the schism
between the political parties by the cheering that came from the
Democrats and, of course, the old Republicans who got up and shouted
back at the Democrats. "I’ve never seen such a vociferous reaction to
a play in my whole career." Dunlop is hoping that George Street’s
artistic director David Saint will also encourage discussion with the
audience after the play.
Although fiction, Taylor’s story was based on actual people. Set in
1932, it chronicles the friendship between two business partners in a
swank and successful San Francisco gallery. Martin Shulze, a
German-born Aryan, has returned to Germany with his wife and children
and re-established ties to his homeland and becomes active with the
National Socialists; Max Eisenstein, a German Jew, has remained to run
the gallery. When Max’s sister, an actress, makes plans to go to
Berlin to perform, Max asks Martin to look after her. Max’s anxiety
grows when a letter he wrote to her is returned stamped "address
Gradually Martin’s increasingly unsympathetic replies to Max’s anxious
missives reveal the ideological divide between the former
friends/partners as well as the truth about Germany’s new order, one
that has already begun to rely on concentration camps to maintain that
order. As the Nazi Party rises to power, one of them commits a
cowardly act of betrayal, which irrevocably changes the lives of both
men and their relationship. "Those, camps, we have that right now at
Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib don’t we?" Dunlop asks rhetorically.
In her review for BroadwayWorld.com, critic Adrienne Onofri takes
particular note of Martin’s monologue, in which he says, "the liberal
is futile." Onofri says, "It sounded like it could be a nominating
speech for George W. Bush." She calls our attention to portions of the
monologue in which Martin praises his leader’s (Hitler’s) decisive
action: "We must support our leader as the country recovers from a
disaster. A doer us risen." Onofri concludes that Martin’s rhetoric
"resembles conservative pundits’ defense of the Iraq prison torture
and that Bush’s decisiveness is a major talking point of his campaign.
But, just as Onofri admits that "Martin isn’t a 2004 RNC delegate – or
Fox News commentator, he’s playing a citizen of Germany in 1933,"
Dunlop says. "I am very conscious of how people react to Martin’s
Dunlop says that he was aware at the time he first read Taylor’s story
how its theme (from Taylor’s afterword to the book) – "what happens to
real living people swept up in a warped ideology" – is destined to
resonate 65 years later. Taylor also wrote in her afterword: "A short
time before the war, some cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German
friends of mine returned to Germany after living in the United States.
In a very short time they turned into sworn Nazis. They refused to
listen to the slightest criticism of Hitler. During a return visit to
California, they met an old, dear friend of theirs on the street who
had been very close to them and was a Jew. They did not speak to him.
They turned their backs on him when he held his hands out to embrace
them. How can such a thing happen?"
If the word fascism can illicit fear, contempt, and loathing in the
average American, then that same average American is also reluctant to
see the darker shadows of this system infiltrating the extreme right
of the Republican party, in league with an increasingly manipulated
media and an unscrupulous corporate hierarchy to propagandize through
intimidation their repressive domestic initiatives and their heinous
and illegal foreign policies.
What exactly does Dunlop want audiences to think about after seeing
this play? "I want audiences to see how wrong the Nazis were and that
liberalism is a good thing."
I asked Dunlop if he was nervous about directing Sam Freed and Mark La
Mura so soon after the New York production that starred Jim Dale and
William Atherton. He admits, "I was very nervous. I told George Street
that I would only do the play if I could get the right actors, not
every actor can do these roles." The most "amazing" (Dunlop’s word)
thing happened after auditioning many actors. Both Freed and La Mura
showed up on the same day, one right after the other and they knew
what I wanted before I said anything."
Concurring that there is a lot of political polarization in this
country, Dunlop feels that it’s a very bad thing, but he adds, "As a
foreigner, it’s not my right to say, although I have lived in Ireland
for the past 14 years where people are still blowing each other up
over ridiculous things."
Born in Leeds, England, Dunlop says he inherited the theater bug from
his parents who were ballroom dancing partners and instructors during
the Depression, a fact he claims he didn’t discover until a few years
ago. It was during his youth spent in Leicestershire that he began
going to see all the plays at the city’s three theaters. Although he
had gone off to "the old Free Thinkers University" in London to become
a teacher, he was called up to serve in the RAF. During his time in
the desert, he made the decision to make the theater his career. Just
out of the service, he was accepted at the Old Vic School.
Dunlop’s career got it biggest boost when he became an associate
director with (Sir) Laurence Olivier at London’s National Theater in
1967. He recalls his most vivid memory of Olivier: "It was 1970, and I
had gone in to see Olivier in his office to tell him that I was
leaving to start up the Young Vic Company. Olivier burst into a fit
and hysterics that I’d never seen in my life, and he screamed at me,
‘How could you?’ conveniently forgetting that I only promised to stay
three years. We had a falling out but made up eventually." The year
1974 was good for Dunlop, as two of his productions traveled to
Broadway and became big hits. They were "Scapino," his opening
production for the Young Vic, starring Jim Dale, and his Royal
Shakespeare Company production of "Sherlock Holmes," starring John
Wood as the famous sleuth.
From 1983 to 1992, Dunlop was director of the Edinburgh International
Festival, where earlier he had premiered "Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat," in 1972. His many London and international
productions include "Kopenick" with Paul Scofield and "Son of Oblomov"
with Spike Milligan. On Broadway, he also directed Richard Burton’s
return to "Camelot."
Dunlop was also the founding director of the BAM Theater Company,
whose distinguished members included Rosemary Harris, Blythe Danner,
Ellen Burstyn, Tovah Feldshuh, Rex Harrison, Denholm Elliot, Rene
Auberjonois, and Richard Dreyfuss. His opera productions include
Weber’s "Oberon" with Seiji Ozawa, "Rossini at Versailles," and
"L’Elisir d’Amore," which was later filmed with Roberto Alagna and
Buoyed by Dunlop’s play, there has been a new and unprecedented
response by the public to Taylor’s story and to Dunlop’s respectful
adaptation. Is it a wonder that her vision of the horrors perpetrated
by the Nazi regime takes on a relevancy today that is not only
chilling but worrisome?
Translated into 10 languages and made into a film in 1944 starring
Paul Lukas as Martin and Morris Carnovsky as Max, "Address Unknown"
received an immensely successful second life in 1995 – the 50th
anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the fall
of Nazism. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dunlop’s stage
adaptation, currently being produced in countries around the world,
has sparked as much attention for its excellence as it has for its
ability to stir up the hearts and minds of the press and the public.
Avenue New Brunswick. Through April 10. 732-246-7717 or visit
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.