Theater work presents ‘ Emil’s En­e­mies’

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

Two days af­ter Adolf Hitler be­came chan­cel­lor of Ger­many, 26-year-old Di­et­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer de­liv­ered the first pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of Hitler in the form of a ra­dio ad­dress warn­ing the na­tion against turn­ing the Führer into a god. Bon­ho­ef­fer’s op­po­si­tion to Na­tional So­cial­ism be­gan in the early 1930s and es­ca­lated un­til he joined the Ger­man re­sis­tance and col­lab­o­rated with oth­ers on sev­eral plots to bring down the Nazis by as­sas­si­nat­ing Hitler. Theater­work’s pro­duc­tion of Emil’s En­e­mies, which ex­plores this as­pect of Bon­ho­ef­fer’s ex­tra­or­di­nary but short life, has its New Mex­ico pre­miere on Fri­day, Feb. 19, at the James A. Lit­tle Theater.

Bon­ho­ef­fer, a Lutheran pas­tor and the­olo­gian who was ex­e­cuted at Flossen­bürg con­cen­tra­tion camp at the age of 39, was the sixth of eight chil­dren born to Karl Bon­ho­ef­fer, a lead­ing psy­chi­a­trist and neu­rol­o­gist in Ger­many. Bon­ho­ef­fer came from a highly in­tel­lec­tual and sci­en­tific-minded fam­ily; he shared a pas­sion for Chris­tian­ity only with his mother and rec­og­nized his call­ing at an early age. Af­ter earn­ing his doc­tor­ate in the­ol­ogy at 21, he trav­eled widely, work­ing as a cu­rate in Barcelona and pur­su­ing his post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in Amer­ica. He hoped one day to study non­vi­o­lent re­sis­tance with Gandhi in In­dia.

Emil’s En­e­mies (the “Emil” of the ti­tle was the nick­name used by the re­sis­tance for Hitler) al­ter­nates be­tween Bon­ho­ef­fer’s fi­nal day in prison and a se­ries of scenes, set mainly in the study of the fam­ily’s home in Ber­lin, that chart the tra­jec­tory of Bon­ho­ef­fer’s re­sis­tance ca­reer and his even­tual ar­rest by the Gestapo.

The play­wright, Dou­glas Huff, pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at Gus­tavus Adol­phus Col­lege in Min­nesota, grew up hear­ing about Bon­ho­ef­fer. But it was a di­rec­tor who was mount­ing one of Huff’s ear­lier plays who made him think of Bon­ho­ef­fer as a pos­si­ble the­atri­cal sub­ject. “He sug­gested that, since I was in phi­los­o­phy and had no doubt read Bon­ho­ef­fer’s Ethics, maybe I should write a play about him,” Huff said. “But I didn’t want to get in­volved in his­tor­i­cal drama, be­cause there are so many land mines there.”

So Huff em­barked on a five-year project of read­ing Bon­ho­ef­fer’s works and bi­ogra­phies. “You have some­body who was a paci­fist in 1930,” Huff said. “Yet Bon­ho­ef­fer told his best friend that if it came down to it, if he were the only one left that could kill Hitler, then he would do it. I thought there was some­thing in­ter­est­ing about this fig­ure.” Huff de­cided to fo­cus on what he said was a “unique mo­ment in in­tel­lec­tual his­tory”: a paci­fist in­volved in po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tion and coup d’état con­spir­a­cies who was writ­ing a book on ethics at the same time.

Bon­ho­ef­fer (played by Jonathan Dixon in the Theater­work pro­duc­tion), en­cour­aged by his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, joined the Ger­man mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence as a courier and diplo­mat, which ex­empted him from ac­tive mil­i­tary duty. It also al­lowed him to travel abroad to church con­fer­ences, where he met his Bri­tish con­tact, Bishop Ge­orge Bell. Through Bell, Bon­ho­ef­fer re­layed in­for­ma­tion about the re­sis­tance’s op­er­a­tions that would even­tu­ally reach Churchill. “That was his role,” Huff said. “When he wasn’t trav­el­ing, he lived in a monastery out­side Mu­nich and wrote his ethics book. ... That’s the pe­riod I wanted to look at.”

Be­cause there are so many facets to Bon­ho­ef­fer’s life dur­ing the re­sis­tance, Huff said he de­cided to bor­row Goethe’s rules about drama. “In or­der to give the piece some po­etic unity, you’re go­ing to have to re­duce the ac­tions of many char­ac­ters to a few and may even have to re­ar­range the se­quence of events in or­der to make it a play,” he said. To this end, he made many of his char­ac­ters com­pos­ites of sev­eral his­tor­i­cal fig­ures.

The play’s only fe­male char­ac­ter, Chris­tine, is based pri­mar­ily on Bon­ho­ef­fer’s sis­ter, whose cen­tral role was to keep the fam­ily to­gether while at the same time pro­ject­ing a sense of calm and in­no­cence as mem­bers of the Gestapo dropped by. Ac­tress An­gela Janda Gold­stein— who stud­ied with Huff at Gus­tavus Adol­phus Col­lege— plays Chris­tine.

“One of the things I love about this char­ac­ter is that there is al­ways so much go­ing on, so much in her mind that she can’t show,” Gold­stein said. “She has to put on a fa­cade for who­ever comes through the house.” Huff elab­o­rated on Chris­tine’s im­por­tance to the re­sis­tance. “There were maybe nine or 10 core fig­ures in the

re­sis­tance [out of the] thou­sands of peo­ple in­volved,” he said. “But she prob­a­bly had the best over­all view of the whole thing. She as­sisted her hus­band in hid­ing the ev­i­dence [he was gath­er­ing] of Nazi crimes against the Ger­man peo­ple. ... She knew all of the de­tails of the re­sis­tance and was prob­a­bly the only woman who had that cen­tral role.”

A sec­ondary, purely fic­tional char­ac­ter is Lit­tle Hans (played by Ian Sproul), an SS lieu­tenant who is a prod­uct of the Hitler Youth. As the play pro­gresses and Lit­tle Hans changes al­le­giance to em­brace the re­sis­tance, he hungers to be part of a new, post-Nazi gov­ern­ment, and yet he es­pouses prej­u­dices and ha­treds that are not much dif­fer­ent from those held by the Nazi party. Huff said he was in­ter­ested in the se­duc­tive power of fas­cism and how peo­ple get in­volved in such move­ments. “The way Lit­tle Hans talks about [fas­cism] has lit­tle to do with ex­e­cut­ing the Jews. It’s kind of an elitism gone mad. That’s what I was try­ing to have him ar­tic­u­late— how or­di­nary peo­ple got in­volved with the Nazis.”

Huff started writ­ing Emil’s En­e­mies— a process he de­scribes as a “moral lab­o­ra­tory” — as a Ful­bright Scholar in Turkey in the late 1980s. Even though the play is about events that took place in the 1930s, Huff said the core mes­sage is as rel­e­vant to­day as it was in Bon­ho­ef­fer’s time or at the time he wrote the play. “All of us are go­ing to find our­selves in sit­u­a­tions— maybe not quite as ex­treme as Bon­ho­ef­fer’s— but we’re al­ways go­ing to be in a sit­u­a­tion where we’re go­ing to have to make a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion, and the guide­lines are not go­ing to be clear,” he said. “We’re go­ing to want to do the right thing. In fact, life de­mands that we do the right thing.”

Closely watched brains: Jonathan Dixon as Di­et­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer Youth is wasted on the Hitler Youth: Drago Su­monja, left, and Ian Sproul

An­gela Janda Gold­stein as Bon­ho­ef­fer’s sis­ter Chris­tine

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