Stage & Screen

East of Berlin: Reconciling the Personal Cost of the Holocaust

East of Berlin: Reconciling the Personal Cost of the Holocaust

By David DeRocco 

There’s usually a great deal of personal responsibility attached to a word placed in front of a name that describes the job you do. With identifiers such as Doctor, Colonel, Chief, or Right Honourable comes an assumption of competence, authority and raised level of expectation. For artistic creator, producer and actress Jocelyn Adema, the newly acquired word “director” has inspired a higher degree of personal expectation, especially given the play for which she’s making her directorial debut.

“For me, working on a Hannah Moscovitch play is really a dream come true,” said Adema, director of the upcoming Essential Collective Theatre production of Moscovitch’s 2007 play, East of Berlin. “I have a background in physical theatre, and of creating shows that spark a lot of imagination and that kind of rely on the audience’s imagination and interaction between the audience and performers. This play is kind of a perfect storm for that.”

East of Berlin focuses on the impact of the Holocaust on the children of those who helped perpetrate the genocide. The main character is the son of a Nazi war criminal who grows up in Paraguay. The story follows him as he travels to Berlin and meets the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor. The play, which debuted at the Tarragon Theatre, was acclaimed for its complex subject, humour and characters. Given her role as director, Adema understands the responsibility she has been given to treat this play with the respect it deserves.

“I feel a great deal of responsibility telling this story,” she said. “There is a great deal of historical accuracy needed to tell this story, and a great deal of attention and respect required. It also requires us to go really deep and get dirty with the script.”

To ensure the performances strike the right balance between the play’s dramatic subject matter and the humour and intimacy of the relationships that develop, Adema says her role as director is simple: to help inspire the actors to focus on the relationships the Canadian playwright has woven into the story.

“I was really looking at the love story in this play. For actors it’s really important to not focus too much on the heavy aspect of the show, because that’s not where the action is, that’s not what’s going on in the relationships. That’s what makes this show interesting for me, the complicated relationships. As a director, I’m trying to help the actors find what to bring to it, to bring those feelings of love and light, to explore as many contrasts as we can find.”

Performances of East of Berlin are being held on the Robertson Theatre stage at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre October 3rd through October 12th. For tickets visit:

About the Playwright:

Hannah's writing for the stage includes Essay, The Russian Play, East of Berlin, The Mill Part II: The Huron Bride, The Children's Republic, Little One, and In This World (for young audiences). Hannah's plays have been produced across the country, including recently at the Shaw Festival, and Tarragon Theatre in Toronto where she is currently playwright-in-residence, the Factory Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Great Canadian Theatre Company, and the Magnetic North Theatre Festival. Hannah's work has won multiple Dora Awards and she's been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Carol Bolt Award, and the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Hannah is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and attended the University of Toronto.

East of Berlin was nominated for the 2009 Governor's General Award and the 2010 International Susan Smith Blackburn Award. First Produced: 2007 at Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, ON. Running TIme: 90 minutes

CAUTIONS: Strong Language, Mild Adult Themes DETAILS Time Period: 1980s, 1970s Target Audience: Adult

**Photos courtesy of Erica Sherwood