Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Obligation: ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

Growing up, we were always assured another Holocaust was impossible. The truth is, these ethnic cleansings are part of America's own history and we can read about them every day in stories from around the world. But all of a sudden, with Donald Trump's takeover of the American government, the Nazis are making a comeback here, along with their white nationalist cousins. America is once again faced with the same issues of organized repression that Roger Grunwald discusses in "The Obligation." If there is one lesson to be gleaned from this show, it is that the bad stuff never goes away.

Grunwald's one-man show, directed by Nancy Carlin, has several brilliant segments, especially his portrayal of a scheming and arrogant Nazi bigwig. Grunwald's characters command the stage and demand that we listen, even when they are telling us things we would rather not hear. As always, Germans are the enemy here, portrayed as hideous, hateful monsters, filled with rage against people they consider their inferiors. We despised them when we walked into the theater and we despise them when we walk out.

For us, this is "The Obligation"'s problem. There is no story arc here, no redemption and little to be learned, except that people do what they do either to protect themselves or to attempt to move up the ladder. We are supposed to be shocked Grunwald's particularly-evil Nazi soldier is half-Jewish. We're not shocked. He is no different than any of them.

On a theatrical level, what is Groucho Marx doing here?

If we are to be warned that prejudice never disappears, "The Obligation" succeeds. The touching understory -- that may survivors of the camps never recovered from the horrors they witnessed -- stays with us. But there is a cost we must pay: it is a dark evening at the theater. Roger Grunwald is an excellent actor telling a thoroughly discouraging story.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is having difficulty rating"The Obligation." For acting: Three Stars. Roger Grunwald knows what he is doing. For writing: a few holes to fill in. For enjoyment? Perhaps this depends on how upset you get hearing about Nazis.

"The Obligation"
The Portrero Stage
1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Through November 5

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