|"Not to speak is to speak ... not to act is to act," said German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
During his powerful one-man show at the Theatre Project, Peter Krummeck speaks for and acts as Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 for his participation in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.
In an intense performance (directed by Christopher Weare), Krummeck revives interest in a man who is not as well-known as he should be in this country. And he breathes renewed life into this Lutheran minister's philosophical teachings. The result is an involving piece of theater with the capacity to stir debate long after the post-play discussion that Krummeck holds after each performance.
The play, which was written by Krummeck, is structured in flashbacks, framed by Bonhoeffer's World War II imprisonments. Portraying merciless guards and relentless interrogators along with the title character, Krummeck smoothly unveils exposition as Bonhoeffer is forced to relate his background each time he is moved to a new prison.
The interrogations themselves, of course, are anything but smooth. Bonhoeffer is berated and struck for calmly stating that he is a Jewish sympathizer because he remembers that Jesus was a Jew. With a mien as serious as his character's mission, the craggy-faced actor imbues Bonhoeffer with a fierceness that is all the more pronounced by being in diametric contrast to his calm, unshakeable demeanor.
Replacing his prison garb with a wool suit, he is transformed into a young man in Berlin. Bonhoeffer illustrates his conversation with slides, telling us that his father, a psychiatrist, was "a cautious agnostic," and though his family was not particularly religious or political, they were spiritual.
He also shows us the formal wedding photo of his twin sister, whose husband was born a Jew. That image is then replaced with pictures of Kristallnacht, followed by another slide of the wedding photo, this time, with the glass shattered in its frame.
Bonhoeffer had several opportunities to leave Germany permanently. He spent time at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and he helped his sister and her husband escape to London. But he kept returning to Germany, which was his fatherland, too, as he reminds one of the guards.
If a maniac driving a motor car were about to mow people down, Bonhoeffer believed his duty wasn't to care for the wounded, but to wrest the wheel from the maniac. Only by being in Germany could he help steer his homeland back on course.
Throughout the play, a noose hangs from the theater's ceiling, an omnipresent reminder of how Bonhoeffer's story ends. Sitting on his cot in a concentration camp, he writes to his young fiancee, prepared to face his fate with the unwavering resolve of a man convinced his cause is just.
Krummeck, who is South African, is an Anglican lay minister, as well as a man of the theater. He's also a human rights activist - founder of African Community Theatre Service, which staged racially mixed productions during apartheid. He clearly knows the power of the theater. In Bonhoeffer, he avoids preaching by embodying his character and the drama of that man's life.
Krummeck initially developed Bonhoeffer as a research project at the University of Cape Town, where he has served on the faculty. It's indicative of the timeliness of Bonhoeffer's thinking that the show made its world premiere at a commemorative Sept. 11 event in Washington in 2002.
The Theatre Project presented four performances of Bonhoeffer last year, before the start of the subscription season. Bringing it back to launch the new season allows more theatergoers to experience a vigorous portrayal of a man whose theological tenets remain thought-provokingly relevant.
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Peter Krummeck speaks for and acts as Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler 1939