Books, Movies, Television, and theater have all told the stories. Yet no matter how many times it is heard and seen, it leaves us shocked and breathless. The stories? A genocide of six million Jew in Europe during World War II, also known as the Holocaust. For either victims or survivors, the facts they disclose are equally disturbing and profound.
Tom Stoppard explores this blight on humanity in his latest—and what may possibly be- his last play, Leopoldstadt. Beginning in 1899, it spans five decades of the Merz family, an affluent, intellectual, secular Jewish family who live in a mostly Jewish area of Vienna. Some family members married gentiles-a point that is also illuminated.
Like fascism itself, the work is insidious. There is much talk and discussion about cultural and social identity, but the warning signs of what is to come are often ignored. “Why the Jews?”, Ernst (Aaron Neil) asks, recalling a conversation he had with Dr. Sigmund Freud.
There is no clear answer.
Stoppard claims that the work is semi-autobiographical, having only learned of his Jewish identity in his mid-fifties. (The playwright is now 85). It is suggested that he modeled the character of Leo (Arty Froushan) after himself.
Leopoldstadt runs two hours and ten minutes with no intermission, yet it briskly moves along. Campbell Young Associates are responsible for the hair, wig, and makeup design, the results of which are quite impressive.
Patrick Marber directs this unusually large epic with a steady and precise hand. Stoppard has packed his play with an abundance of characters. Even with a family tree, it is often hard to decipher the relationhips. This should be a hindrance however to grasping the play. At its root, the intention is not to know how all the players are connected. Instead, it invites us to explores ideas of assimilation and identity while subtly suggesting that history can in fact repeat itself if we are not paying attention.
To that end, these stories must never stop being told.
Leopoldstadt is on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th between Broadway and 8th. For tickets and information, click here.