Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Born in East Berlin" ☼ ☼ ☼

When Bruce Springsteen played for more than a quarter million East Berliners in 1988, the concert broke down social and political barriers that could never be reconstituted. It lives on as a milestone in German history and The Berlin Wall came down for good the following year.

Rogelio Martinez's "Born in East Berlin," having its World Premiere in SF Playhouse's Sandbox Series, attempts to recreate the highs and lows of the period, using this real-life concert as his centerpiece. The story's metaphor is the Wall: each East Berliner has two sides, the public side they show and the other side they all dream about: freedom.

Our story is told through the voice of Katja ( Isabel Langen),  a nineteen-year old Berliner who sees no future for herself in East Berlin. Then, she hears about the upcoming Springsteen concert and eventually is pulled onto stage to dance with the Boss. The symbolism is impossible to miss: rock and roll as the savior of the human spirit.

Gerhard (Griffin O'Connor) is Katja's boyfriend with whom she is sharing dreams; likewise,
Anne (Ash Malloy), Springsteen's advance-woman, has believed in Hans (Patrick Andrew Jones) and Erich (Christopher Reber) is interested in Alix (Wera von Wulfen). It all sounds rather sit-com until we realize just about everyone, including Katja's sister Lotte (Lauren Hart) is a secret agent for the Stazi secret police.

We like the premise and we love the music. Anyone who hears "Born in the USA" or "I'm on Fire" realizes how incendiary these tunes have always been. Bruce Springsteen is an icon for the world.

Right now, the play feels long. For us, less talk and more music is the ticket. Perhaps licensing is an issue; if not, whenever we hear a Springsteen song we are lifted into the action of the story. When the music stops, the story tends to spin in a predictable circle.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Born in East Berlin" Three Stars. It is fun to see now but, in our opinion, will hit home with more power when the music is allowed to show what the characters are trying to say.

"Born in East Berlin"
San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series
The Children's Creativity Museum
221 4th Street, San Francisco
Next to the Carousel
Through Feb. 29

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