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Abingdon Theatre Company Presents "A Happy End", by Iddo Netanyahu, at the June Havoc Theater
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Abingdon Theatre Company Presents "A Happy End", by Iddo Netanyahu, at the June Havoc Theater

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Abingdon Theatre Company

A Happy End
By Iddo Netanyahu

At the
Abingdon Theatre Company
Jan Buttram, Artistic Director
June Havoc Theater
312 West 36th Street

With: Joel Ripka, Carmit Levité, Curzon Dobell,
Lori Gardner, Phil Gillen, Allison Siko

Directed by Alex Dmitriev

Set Design: Blair Mielnik
Lighting Design: Katy Atwell
Costume Designer: Laura Crow
Sound Design: David Margolin Lawson
Projections/Asst. Director: Dennis Corsi
Production Stage Manager: Deidre Works
Production Manager: Ashley Zednick
Casting Director: Carol Hanzel
Technical Director: AJ Mattioli
Managing Director: Heather Henderson
Associate Artistic Director/Literary Manager: Kim T. Sharp
Director of Communications: Bob Lasko

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 10, 2015

Iddo Netanyahu, the radiologist-novelist, younger brother of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told me, after tonight’s post-show, talk-back, that there might be problems bringing this play to Paris. That says it all, after the recent attacks. The fomenting whispers and sub-rosa machinations of anti-Semitism are now, once again, revealing themselves in Europe and beyond. In the setting of 1932 Berlin, Mr. Netanyahu presents the Erdmanns, Mark and Leah, who see and hear street riots and broken windows, yet they, as German Jews, cannot bring themselves to leave their beloved Berlin. They feel they’ll be bored outcasts, anywhere far from Berlin. Mark, a professor and physicist, is stymied in his comprehensive research and suddenly blocked as a professor in the University. Leah, an avid “theatregoer”, actually creates her own dramas, as the lover of Mark’s friend and colleague, Dieter Kraft. Mark and Leah’s son, Hans, an aspiring poet, finds himself bullied and rejected, as he yearns for Martha, whose German Christian roots are emphasized in her Swiss-like costume. Mark’s secretary, Anna, in a secondary role, exudes an all-knowing sense of the impending, unhappy end to it all. She served as the visionary.

As Mark, Curzon Dobell evokes a studied seriousness, an intellectual self-obsession, and a hardened exterior, a scientist, through and through. His lack of awareness of the affair between his wife and young, dapper assistant, transfers to his lack of awareness of Berlin’s impending Nazi power. As Leah, Carmit Levité, a sophisticated, warm actress, shows confidence and depth, as she shifts, in the moment, between Mark, Dieter, and son, Hans. In the role of Hans, Phil Gillen brings sensitivity, angst, and youthful impetuosity to his stage moments. Allison Siko, as Martha, Hans’ girlfriend, as well, reveals conflicting loyalties and cultural identities, self-conscious about her relationship with this young, Jewish poet. Lori Gardner is Anna, the visionary with yearning eyes. Mr. Gillen and Ms. Siko also double as characters in the bar.

The understated, emotional strength of these poignant characters is thanks to the seasoned direction of Alex Dmitriev. He keeps the scenes moving on this tiny Abingdon stage, as German cabaret songs waft through the sound of an old radio. And, he has ingeniously brought in Dennis Corsi to project slides and videos of early 1930’s Berlin, showing families at play, Nazis in uniform, marching in parades, and the Stumbling Stone Project. Mr. Dmitriev also brought in Laura Crow, costume designer, who dressed Ms. Levité in stunning long dresses, coats, and accessories. Blair Mielnik’s movable sets create the intriguing, windowed café and the Erdmanns’ windowed living room. It’s through these windows where the audience sees Berlin marching forward toward Kristallnacht, which would occur five years after the 1933 conclusion of this play. Katy Atwell’s lighting and David Margolin Lawson’s sound are technically intrinsic to the magnetic pull of this historically based play. Kudos to Iddo Netanyahu for reminding his audiences (this 2012 play has been previously produced in Europe) of the warning markers of oppression and delusion. .

Interview with Director, Alex Dmitriev, at Olympic Flame Diner (Amsterdam at 60th Street, NY)

REZ: With Abingdon's small intimate stage and all scene changes visible, no intermission, how did you direct the six actors to subtly change their level of comfort and stability? Your excellent video projections clearly showed that political tension was increasingly rising, from scene to scene.

AD: In the rehearsal process we discussed the flow of the story - the three time periods - November 1932, January 1933, and February 1933 - we discussed how each scene represented a step in the march of the Nazis to power - but most of all the script tells the story, and we worked to make clear, through the text, where the characters were, at any particular point in the three months that the play covers.

REZ: Did you research early 1930's Berlin to prepare for this directing project? During rehearsals, were there wrenching discussions about time, place, and the eventual arrests and deportations?

AD: Yes. I found online an excellent source - The History Place - The Rise of Hitler; Hitler runs for President - which give me a very good starting point on the events from November 1932 to February 1933. No particular "wrenching" discussions - but we did talk about events, and Iddo provided input and some historical background.

REZ: What was your thinking on sets, lighting, and costumes, for enhancing visual impact? I found the long dresses and coats to be very authentic and elegant, expanding on the joie de vivre of early 1930's Berlin. The Cafe Peter had a dark bohemian dynamic.

AD: My costume designer, Laura Crow, is the head of the costume department at the University of Connecticut - she has a fairly vast selection of costumes from several eras - we discussed the look we wanted for each character, and she provided many possible choices from which we made the final look of the clothing for the characters.

The set design was influenced by the fact that we have five different locations in eleven scenes. We needed a set that could provide a consistent look, while also giving us the essence of the five different locations. So, the set pieces had to be able to move and represent those elements needed for each particular scene. Blair Mielnik worked from an original idea, regarding the floor and the stumbling stones, and created the surrounding walls and the visual elements. Katy Atwell, the lighting designer, was tasked with creating as individual a look as possible for each scene, based on location, time of day and month.

REZ: Did you change Iddo Netanyahu's 2012 "A Happy End" in any way, refining or expanding any dialogue? How did you decide on the projected videos? Is this a new feature for the play? Were they taken in Berlin by journalists or private citizens?

In working on the script over the last year, I, along with Iddo, made fairly minor cuts to the dialogue in many of the scenes. We worked to make the flow of each scene better. We also made some line changes to make them sound less like a translation and more natural. During rehearsal we made other cuts, based on actors’ feedback, as they explored scenes, or when Iddo heard something in rehearsal that he realized he didn't need, to tell the story. In the script, Iddo has written that video is to be used to show Berlin streets and night life and to serve to enhance the threatening, outside world. Working with my assistant, Dennis Corsi, we found, and he put together, the visuals that you see, in the order that you see them. Most of the video was found on You Tube from various sources.

REZ: How has this directing experience influenced your work?

AD: I won't say that directing this play has so much influenced my work as it has been a vehicle for expanding my approach to directing. I believe that an audience shouldn't be aware of what I have done as a director - they should be immersed in the play and performances and not how it was achieved. This play presented obstacles (the many scenes and locations), and my job was to stitch it all together, so, for an audience, it would be a seamless experience. The story is what is important.

Phil Gillen (Waiter), Curzon Dobell (Mark Erdmann), Lori Gardner (Anna),
Carmit Levite (Leah Erdmann) and Joel Ripka (Dieter Kraft)
in "A HAPPY END" by Iddo Netanyahu
at Abingdon Theatre Company
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

Phil Gillen (Hans Erdmann) and Allison Siko (Martha)
in "A HAPPY END" by Iddo Netanyahu
at Abingdon Theatre Company
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

Director, Alex Dmitriev
at Olympic Flame Diner
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at