Taking Sides
Reviewed by David Kashimba

Pacific Alliance Stage Company, at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park opens its new season with a very timely play delving into the moral obligations of art and artists during a time of war. Set in occupied Berlin in 1946, Taking Sides takes a searing look at German artists who chose to stay in their country during the rise of Hitler.

The play, almost Faustian in stature, zeros in on one of the most controversial artists of his time, Willhelm Furtwangler, the conductor of the Berlin Symphonic Orchestra. Did Furtwangler stay in Germany out of concern for art and the German people at a time when books were being burned and Jewish artists and musicians were vanishing? Or did he make a pact with the Devil (Hitler) for his own self-gain?

This is the drama’s premise. A U.S. Army Major (Michael Grice) becomes the grand inquisitor bent on proving that even though Furtwangler (Thomas Lynch) helped many Jewish musicians to escape Germany, and spoke against Nazi policies toward Jews, his musical stardom coincided with the rise to power of the Nazi party and he took full advantage of his position.

The drama is heightened by the fact that Lieutenant David Wills (Steve Rhyne), an American officer of Jewish heritage, sides with Furtwangler as does Emmi Straube (Samantha Starr) whose father, an officer in the German army, was part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. Two other characters, Helmuth Rode (Jeff Larson) and Tamara Sachs (Betty Grandis), walk that narrow broken line down the middle of the road.

The acting is so good in this production that you’d swear you’re watching the real life event enfold in front of you. Director Stephen Klum took special care to emphasize character development and dramatic impact in this multilevel play allowing the metaphors and symbolism to breathe naturally out of the action. But there are volumes of philosophical debate woven into the fabric of this play that writers such as Goethe and Thomas Mann would have thoroughly enjoyed. And, like any work of art, the thoughts and emotions evoked by this drama speak a universal language that transcends time. Though the focus is on the aftermath of WWII, veterans of the Vietnam War and Desert Storm will also be touched by this drama as will every one of us who are now military or civilian soldiers in a new war.

For tickets to this excellent production call (707) 588-3400.

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