Review: ‘Address Unknown’

Kressmann Taylor's acclaimed 1938 novella "Address Unknown," as adapted for the stage by Frank Dunlop, is an absorbing two-hander distinctively mounted at the George Street Playhouse.

Kressmann Taylor’s acclaimed 1938 novella “Address Unknown,” as adapted for the stage by Frank Dunlop, is an absorbing two-hander distinctively mounted at the George Street Playhouse.

The drama focuses upon the correspondence between San Francisco Jewish antique dealer Max Eisenstein (Sam Freed) and Martin Schulze (Mark La Mura), the former partner he loved like a brother. Martin has moved his family from the U.S. to a country mansion near Munich, where his sons pursue higher education and subsequent enlistment in Hitler’s boys corps.

Martin quickly succumbs to Germany’s new order, which he assesses as “the birth of a new Germany under our ‘gentle’ leader.” He comes to accept Jews as “universal scapegoats” and is subsequently advised by party members to cease his correspondence with his once dear friend.

The drama peaks when Max’s beloved sister, a fledgling actress with whom Martin once had a stormy affair, travels to Berlin to pursue a career in the theater.

When Max’s letters to his sister are returned “address unknown,” the distraught art dealer attempts to renew his dwindling correspondence with the brainwashed Martin, imploring him to find and protect her from the persecution to which the Jewish community has been subjected.

The drama was filmed in a rarely seen 1944 programmer with Paul Lukas as Martin and Morris Carnovsky as Max. The persuasive tandem performances on the New Brunswick stage provide a compelling and chilling thrust. The actors share the same acting space and occasionally are side by side, but never look at one another or react in formal theatrical tradition. They play their roles facing the audience with a revealing and invasive sense of intimacy.

La Mura offers a harrowing account of the German-American drawn into the warped ideology of a dictator and his Nazi henchmen. It is a cunningly icy portrait of a man hopelessly trapped between two worlds, dealing with the ultimate remorse over having lost his soul.

Freed wonderfully conveys the distant, creeping menace and offers a wrenching study as laughter turns to grief at the loss of sister and best friend.

Both actors capture the poetry of the language and Taylor’s lean and pointed gift of storytelling.

Director and adapter Frank Dunlop, a former Laurence Olivier collaborator and founder of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s theater company, staged last year’s finely tuned New York production starring Jim Dale and William Atherton. In adapting Taylor’s writings for the stage, he has once again harnessed the tragic deterioration of a once binding friendship and the cold, hard inevitability and ugly disruptive consequences of war.

Scott Davis’ lighting design subtly shifts from one actor to another with steely definition. James Youmans’ handsome and functional set pairs a swank San Francisco office with a coldly elegant Victorian study in Munich.

Address Unknown

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J.; 360 seats; $66 top

Production

A George Street Playhouse presentation of a play in one act by Kressmann Taylor, edited by Frank Dunlop. Directed by Dunlop.

Creative

Set, James Youmans; costumes, Jim Stewart; lighting, Scott Davis; sound, Christopher J. Bailey; production stage manager, Christine Catti. Opened and reviewed March 18, 2005. Running time: 1 HOUR, 5 MIN.

Cast

Max Eisenstein - Sam Freed Martin Schulze - Mark La Mura

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