Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The story behind this epic work begins in Washington at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where archivist Rebecca Erbelding (Elizabeth Stahlmann) receives an album of photos found by a U.S. soldier during his service in Germany following World War II. The setting is obviously Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, but the 116 photos don't show barracks, arriving trains, or any prisoners or inmates. These are records of Nazi officers–including recognizable war criminals–mostly in social situations. (Most astonishing is the discovery of a recreational chalet on the Auschwitz grounds, where employees could go to relax and bring their families to visit.)
As Erbelding and co-worker Judy Cohen (Kathleen Chalfant) work their way through the photos, some of the subjects emerge to give their perspectives. The creator of the album, Karl Höcker (Scott Barrow), was a bank clerk who joined the SS and became the adjutant to the then-commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss; he managed to escape prosecution for many years.
Kaufman and his co-author Amanda Gronich also widen their focus to include descendants of people in the photos. Peter Wirths (Grant James Varjas) knew his father as a kind and generous man, a doctor, but he has to come to terms with the fact that the man he loved also worked in the camp with the vicious Dr. Josef Mengele. Rainer Höss (Charlie Thurston), grandson of the commandant, has to deal with questions of whether evil and guilt are inheritable traits.
While all eight members of the ensemble give nuanced performances as they shift among roles, Stahlmann is the core: a woman who knows the photos must be made public but is concerned that a museum devoted to the memory of Holocaust victims would not be an appropriate venue. Other standouts are Chalfant as a senior researcher with demanding standards, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh in several roles.
The physical production is stark but striking. Derek McLane's scenic design mostly revolves around the work desks of the archivists and the textured brick back wall where David Bengali has designed projections from the photos. David Lander's lighting design incorporates a motif of illumination: neon borders on desktops; fluorescent tubes overhead; and ongoing references to photography as a popular, affordable hobby of the period.
Here There Are Blueberries runs through May 28, 2023, at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By Moisés Kaufman and Amanda Gronich