Reviewed by Holli Harms
Acted with care and vicious depth, I was glad I went to see All Our Children at The Sheen Center to witness the unfolding of this horrific story, and the love that rises up from it. The audience was both mobile (moved by emotion) and vocal in their response to what was happening in front of them; this was one of those times when I cheered what live theatre can do.
Herr Doktor Victor Franz ( Karl Kensler) is the man in charge of the Children’s Hospital in Winkelheim, Germany in 1941. Taking care of Dr. Franz is his maid Martha (the soulful Jennifer Dundas). She has two boys, one who is a disabled child and one who is “perfect.” The perfect boy is in the war as a cook. And her husband? Killed in WWI, as were many of the men. The women, the mothers, are left to do the child rearing and make the money in order to survive.
Elizabetta (the astonishing Tasha Lawrence) is a mother who has come to ask if she may visit with her child who suffers from severe epileptic seizures, but she is told by Dr. Franz that a visit now is not good for her son’s treatment. She is a hardworking humble woman grateful to the doctor and the state for taking care of her child. But there is another reason she cannot see her son. When that is discovered she will be back with teeth to bare and fists to pound.
When the Nazis take Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” to serve their purpose for the Master Race, it will mean that those who are the weakest will be euthanized, and those chosen first for this “racial hygene” are children. Children born with disabilities – blind, deaf, down syndrome, epileptics and more – they are imperfect and they need to go.“Quality of life,” they will say, “quality of life these children do not have.” They are helping the families, helping the mothers. For who wants to be a mother of such a creature, one lesser than all the others, an embarrassment, an abomination to society? But how can this be done? How to justify the murder of children as young as 4 and 5? How can the government carry out this act of “kindness?”
There is another part of this story that breaks open before us and it is that to be a good Ayran, you must make babies. Good healthy babies. It is your patriotic duty. This new Germany will be strong, happy, and most of all healthy. No weak links. For a race to survive they must eliminate that which holds them back and create that which is superior.
But the genocide of these weaker children, how to make it happen without suspicion?
First, take the medicines that are necessary for those with severe disabilities out of public control. No longer can a parent go to the pharmacist for their prescription. Only the government will have access. Disable the parents of the disabled. Then create a “hospital” for these poor children where the medications and doctors will be there to “help.” Because that is what doctors do, they “help.” Then round up all these children, saying that it is for the benefit of the child. The parents will have no choice. They have been told the lie that their children are getting help. Then one by one the children die. Accidents the parents are told in letters, accidents due to the child’s disability.
Director, Ethan McSweeney, has set the production in the round, the players and the audience on the same level, the actors but a touch away, and that intimacy generates a heat of audible emotions.
John Glover plays the real-life Bishop, Bishop Von Galen, who was widely known for his verbal attacks on Hitler and the Nazis, specifically their systematic killings of invalids. Glover, in his Bishop’s robes, casts a large shadow over everyone as he talks of the invincibility of human life and morality of the individual and state. His laser-like precision casts out those who stand with the state-sponsored mass murdering of children, calling them fanatics, asking where has their morality gone.
It is Sam Lilja who has the difficult part of playing the Hospital’s Administrative Deputy Director, Eric Schmidt. He is the Nazi fanatic with all the trappings of stereotype – straight back, slick-haired, maniacal laugh, constant Heil Hitlering- the whole shmegegge. And Lilja does his best to not fall too far into this trap but the writing doesn’t give him the leverage he needs.
The play reflects the fanaticism, the persecution of those not like us, that is happening right now in our own backyard. Horrifying to think we have the capacity for such hate and single-mindedness.
This is not an easy play to watch as it will tear at your soul, but it is well, well worth the watch.
All Our Children written by Stephen Unwin, Directed by Ethan McSweeney
With: Jennifer Dundas, John Glover, Karl Kenzler, Tasha Lawrence and Sam Lilja
Scenic Design Lee Savage, Sound Design Lindsay Jones, Costume Design Tracy Christensen, Lighting Design Scott Bolman,
All Our Children now playing in a limited five-week engagement through May 12 at The Sheen Center Black Box Theatre (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in the Black Box Theater. General
Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7PM, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8PM, with matinees on Saturday at 2PM and Sundays at 3PM. There is a special Tuesday evening performance on April 30 at 7PM. Tickets are $65 and $80 for performances thereafter. Tickets are available online at SheenCenter.org, by phone at 212- 925-2812, or in-person at The Sheen Center box office Monday to Friday Noon to 5PM and one hour before performances. Student rush tickets are available one hour before curtain. General Admission.
For Saturday Post-Matinee Talkbacks, Parent-Friendly Performances, and Open Captioned performances Go HERE
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.