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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

fiction."

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

play.

"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

now."

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

unknown."

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

speech."

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

Angela Gheorghiu.

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.

"Address Unknown," George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston

Avenue New Brunswick. Through April 10. 732-246-7717 or visit

www.GSPonline.org.


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