ge-ner-i-cide (ji*ner*i’*side) n. 1. The elimination of individual thought by choosing to follow what is thought to be “right”. 2. Thinking differently but acting the same. 3. A way of life that demands change.
This one-act play (performed August 24-28, 1994 at Wismer Theatre on the Chico State campus, written and directed by Michael Dunn) addresses the difference between history, memory, and virtual reality in the time passage of a single day. The play begins and ends with a dream, mingled with four fantasies weaving in and out of Carl’s reality framed by the two dreams. The line between history and memory is a central theme to this play. The Holocaust is an event whose recreation creates an abstraction; it is impossible, short of torturing prospective actors, to recreate the degradation. By doing so, a myth has been created of what the time period was like. This play works against the myth and into the memory of the survivor, a participant in history who was turned in by her German friend, Karl, just when she was about to escape a concentration camp. History is represented by Carl Mari, who upon learning of her plight in a dream and confirming it in reality, spends the entire play trying to rescue her from her own past.
The main male character, Carl Mari, pursues a woman he has personally known and whose poetry has inspired him. The poet is a Holocaust survivor, Charlotte. Her death in reality sparks Carl on a race through history, dreams, reality, and a form of virtual travel through a Fantasy Enhancer (FE), a machine which allows the imagination to think that it is traveling to different dimensions or even time periods. The use of the FE is reserved for those over 70, who can use the visualization to escape their bodies. When Charlotte dies in reality, she gives Carl the FE, asking only that he not try to visit her past.
His attempts to visit her past and correct the error of the German Karl lead him to attempt to recreate history. But instead of a concentration camp, he creates a restaurant scene, a game show, and finally a setting in front of the fence where the original Karl made his choice. Yet he cannot rescue her in his fantasy or his dreams, getting cut off by technology and the fact that he didn’t live Charlotte’s life and cannot recreate it. Carl goes back to rescue Charlotte from what he thinks is the Holocaust, but he learns by interacting with history that it was nothing like he thought it was. In the end, the choice to free the life of the woman, instead of the death of her memory, brings a choice that Carl can’t make because he didn’t live it. At the fence where she was abandoned by the German Karl, Charlotte chooses to free herself in Carl’s dream, which changes history in the mind and memory of Carl.
Character and Settings
Six actors will be involved in the production. Carl Mari and the older Charlotte play themselves throughout the play. Crystal/younger Charlotte portrays the former as a friend of Carl’s in reality, with the latter being Carl’s representation of what Charlotte would look like in his Fantasy. The other three actors are male, with Hitler playing himself in various disguises, Dieter playing himself in various roles, and the Narrator providing bit parts and short dialogues with the survivor Charlotte.
The play begins with Carl’s dream, where he learns about Charlotte’s Karl. Four masks form the central metaphor for the initial dream scene: the Perpetrator, the Victim, the Bystander, and the Rescuer mask that no one actually wears. The caricature of Hitler is the controlling figure in the dream, forcing Carl to dance with him while Charlotte is symbolically left behind the barbed wire fence to die. Carl wakes up into Reality, where he goes to work and has a long discussion with Charlotte about his dream and her life.
They share the initial Fantasy, where she explains the story of the German Karl and urges Carl to get on with his own, “real”, life. She gives him the Fantasy Enhancer and dies at the end of Act I. Carl promises to change her life, and the choice the German Karl made, in his own Fantasy.
After Charlotte’s death, Carl proceeds into his first Fantasy, recreating a restaurant where he attempts to rescue Charlotte. He wakes from this Fantasy in the reality of his apartment. He then goes into his second fantasy, which turns Charlotte’s life into a game show. He wakes from this Fantasy back into the reality of his apartment. He then goes into his third fantasy, where he puts himself at the fence where Charlotte was abandoned so he can change the choice the German Karl made. Before he can move or “change” history, his Fantasy is interrupted by the Police.
After the three fantasies, Carl escapes and tries to get another FE on the streets, but finds only a machine that doesn’t work. Frustrated, he goes back to his place of work where he met Charlotte, and tries to steal another FE but is caught by the police. Taken back to his room, he falls asleep and goes back to the fence where Charlotte was abandoned. Hitler tells him to do what the original Karl did. Carl cannot choose, but together the younger and older Charlottes make the choice to free themselves of the prison of the Holocaust. Carl thinks he wakes up in prison, but it is actually still in his dream with Hitler, who tries to convince him that his reality is the prison. Carl sees the figures of the two Charlottes waving at him from center stage. The older Charlotte urges him to give the symbols of hatred, the swastikas and stars of David lying next to the bed, to Hitler in front of the oven. The play ends with Hitler shoving these symbols into the oven as Charlotte leads the entire cast in a dance celebrating the life after the Holocaust.
The six actor ensemble will play the following parts. Four characters play a multiple of parts, but they do not actually change character. Each actor will wear a certain outfit throughout the play, changing only hats and masks to indicate a change of character. The following comments are preliminary views of how I see the characters. Interpretation is invited.
Carl Mari: Carl is the only “single” character in the play, remaining the same character throughout. He is driven by a dream to correct an error of the past, but in his hubris must realize that he cannot rescue Charlotte. He is like a strong, loyal dog; he will do what he believes is right, even if it kills him….or someone else. I see him as honest, loyal, stubborn, and disempowered by his own inability to choose.
: She is the central figure of the play, the crux upon which conscious change revolves. She is the survivor and a poet, a duality that she portrays in the face of the one dimensional history of the Holocaust. Her character has the zen of the survivor, one who has been to the edge of death and comes back with more life. Her power is in her understanding of humanity and of herself. I see here as the voice of sanity, with viewpoints appearing insane to the rationalizing minds that dominate the play.
: This character acts the same part of Crystal and the younger Charlotte. She is feisty, independent, and fair minded, a woman who knows what she wants but listens to others. To me she represents the struggle for harmony and balance, even if she is a little too young to have achieved balance herself.
: This dual character is self-centered and self-absorbed, but a good friend to both Carl and Crystal. His parts are of the follower, of one who stays inside his own mind and rarely interacts with others except for Crystal,Carl, and Hitler.
Hitler/Gameshow Host/Police Officer
: Hitler owes more to P.T. Barnum than the stereotypical historical figure, a black comic buffoon who plays to calculating extremes. Silences are an important part of his speech, precise and directed like the real thing, but overwhelmed by the schlockiness of his character in this play. I see him as part-camp and part performer.
: These minor parts comprise the virtual reality connection of the audience to the play, the buffer by which the play is transmitted. The dialogue of the narrator is a dialogue with the survivor, like the writer looking at the work from within the play.
The multiple parts are used to connect the various states – dream, reality, and Fantasy- through the same characters. Recreating a new character isn’t necessarily the goal; the similarities of characters throughout the dimensions provide a continuity, reinforced by different masks and hats worn by characters who remain in the same clothing throughout the play.
The stage is enclosed by four hanging Stars of David: a brown Gypsy Star hanging in the Bystander section, a Pink star in the Survivor section, a yellow Star in the Victim section, and a black Star in the Perpetrator section. A bed, two chairs, a painting of Hitler, and a magical closet face a sole stool in the middle of the empty space between the audience and this stage. The stool represents the empty space for the Rescuer. In the final scene, the survivor Charlotte takes this seat, surrounded by the players in a dance. The play is framed by two dances; Hitler’s dance of death in the beginning and Charlotte’s dance of life in the end.
The four corners of the stage and the four masks form the interconnection of the play. The Bystander and Survivor sections view history as a conflict between Perpetrator and Victim. The two dimensionality of this historical stage is broken by the leaps into the conscious and unconscious view of the Holocaust shown by Carl. He is unsure why he wants to understand history, but in trying to change it, runs into problems of questioning history with memory.
The first dance of death uses Hitler as the focal point; the final dance of life circles Charlotte, tearing down the symbols and forcing Hitler to live as the victim of history, throwing away the symbols into the ovens that burn the limitations of the past.