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The Sins of the Father, Another Holocaust Play
By Irene Backalenick

Theatre critic Irene Backalenick covers theatre for national and regional publications. She has a Ph.D.in theatre criticism from City University Graduate Center. Her book "East Side Story--Ten Years with the Jewish Repertory Theatre" (based on her doctoral thesis) won a first-place national book award in history. Other awards in journalism and theatre criticism include a New York Times Publishers Award (received while writing for The New York Times). Her professional organizations include the American Theatre Critics Association, Association for Jewish Theatre, Outer Critics Circle (on the executive board), Drama Desk, Actors Equity Derwent Committee, and the Connecticut Critics Circle e-mail: IreneBack@aol.com

Jeffrey Sweet is a highly skilled playwright. In "The Action Against Sol Schumann," his new play at the Hypothetical Theatre Company at the 14th St Y, his characters play out their private dramas against a backdrop of political and social events. These vibrant characters never get lost in the rich and detailed tapestry. It is the world seen through a microscope, through the members of one family.

"Sol Schumann," like so many Holocaust plays of this era, deals with the Holocaust history as it affects the next generation. Sol, a quiet, deeply-observant Jew, is honored by his sons, his community, his synagogue. One son is a human rights activist who reacts strongly to anti-semitic practices, past and present, while the other has become assimilated and removed from the fray.

But when the Schumanns are suddenly hit with accusations against the father, the family dynamics change radically. Sol, it turns out, had been a Capo in a German labor camp. As facts and alleged facts surface, the family is torn apart. Is Sol a decent man who was forced to do the Germans' bidding? Or did he actually turn on his fellow Jews with unnecessary brutality?

Sweet creates a series of short, staccato scenes, which comes off in cinematic style and gives the sense of news broadcasts. His dialogue, is sharp, searing, well suited to the cinematic style. It is no surprise that the playwright created the piece originally as a screenplay. The story is loosely based on the real life story of Jacob Tannenbaum, a Brooklyn resident whose war crimes trial in 1985 was widely publicized.

Amy Feinberg directs the piece and her 11-member cast imaginatively, mixing a choral reading style with hard-hitting individual scenes. Initially, the play is a confusing jumble of mixed events, like jigsaw pieces scattered across the table. But gradually the puzzle comes together, turning "The Action Against Sol Schumann" into compelling drama.

Jeffrey Sweet E-mail: DGSweet@aol.com  

Related Links:

  • Jeffrey Sweet’s Home Page
  • Read more articles by Irene Backalenick

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      Michael Levy, 112323    (7/11/2004)

  • Irene Backalenick

    Playwright Jeffrey Sweet

    Douglas Dickerman & Tandy Cronyn photo by Amy Feinberg

    The cast of The Action Against Sol Schmann photo by Amy Feinberg

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