Intimate, yes, but… how close?

“Maybe if we look at our history together,” one of the characters in Baete Haeckl’s play Luna’s Bracelet starts, “something will happen.” The hypothesis is part of a cacophony of such questions that crescendos towards the end of the excerpts of Luna’s Bracelet read at the Segal Center on April 1st, 2010. The play formed the “second half” of an intercultural experiment in memory, trauma, and personal healing presented by Intimate Relations NY/Berlin, a project of OneHeart Productions. Haekl’s play formed the German contingency of an exchange between American Jewish women and German women, all working with and through the theatre to address issues of personal memory, trauma, and how history effects intimate, quotidian relations. The piece, a collaboration with theatre director Andreas Robertz and actor/producer/director, Mario Golden, is a fictional invention that uses the individual stories of several German women and their families. The creative trio sent a team of actresses home for six weeks with tape recorders and note pads and asked them to come back with stories about the war and its aftermath. Working through this amassed emotive energy, Haeckle, Golden, and Robertz created the fictitious plot line following the interactions of six contemporary women representing three generations over the course of one weekend in the German countryside. Luna, an Argentine Jewess who was sentenced to death in a concentration camp, appears as the link between them through matching jewelry pieces the women share.

The piece is an interesting mash-up of didactic historical explanation (figuring prominently the plight of Argentine Jews denied exit visas by the Argentine government between 1938 and 1944) and artistic artifice (Luna and her jewelry). Moreover, introspection dominates the feel of the piece as it moves through a variety of theatrical forms: flashback, orchestrated monologues, dialogue, and in the projected final production, choreography. The playmakers are well-intentioned and their source material obviously rich but the images, characters, and politics their piece conjures have yet to be deconstructed critically; the piece wobbles on a self-conscious platform between clouded racism, overt pain, and manipulated emotions. The German characters scream in frustration at the situation history has locked them in, but their play doesn’t open questions in a way that may redeem its characters or hope in humanity. The women rally around the collectively imagined figure of Luna, a part of themselves they wish to take back, to defend, to protect, and to beg for forgiveness from. Invoked by a memory sparked by a sensuous Argentine tango, her bracelet used by one of the characters as a powerful sex charm, Luna is conjured as the sensual rhythm and the freedom German culture and society lacks. But beyond her mostly simplistic plot function, Luna struck me as a reiteration of classic racism concerning Semitic women (that is she is dark, beautiful, sensuous, and dangerous) especially in relation to the continued perception of German culture as straight-laced, repressive, and conservative.

Indeed this back-and-forth about cultural differences ran heavy through the talkback following the dramatic recitation. Mr. Golden stated outright his personal cultural discomfort when he visits Germany (himself Mexican-American), and I noticed a rather odd self-deprecation voiced by several Germans present concerning the lack of communication and sharing in German households. I found this codification of cultural difference particularly unsettling: not just for its unspoken attribution of historical events to cultural attitudes, but for its re-inscription of the very things an intercultural exploration of memory and trauma ostensibly seeks to work against.

I was reminded of several remarkable contemporary German films that deal with some of the issues Haeckl takes on – most notably, perhaps, the treatment of sexual freedom, lesbianism, and women during the Third Reich in Aimee & Jaguar (1999) and the oppressive silence Michael Haneke takes on in his splendid The White Ribbon (2009). At the time of the reading, the Intimate Relations collaboration lacked the explosive creativity these films have to push their characters past simple tropes and into a space of collective (audience included) imagination about the future. The hope behind the character statement, “maybe if we look at our history together, something will happen” is that something new, cathartic, or productive will take place. The piece is incredibly intimate, but how close is it to engendering this something that “will happen?” The answer remains to be seen.

Rayya El Zein

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