The elder statesman of Australian theater, David Williamson, has given classical guitarist Karin Schaupp, her mother and her grandmother a generous present in the oral family history, “Lotte’s Gift.” Like a photo album brought to life, the solo piece retells Lieselotte “Lotte” Reinke’s life in wartime Germany and then in Australia through her granddaughter Schaupp. Uniquely personal, honest and feminine, the play invites audiences into Lotte’s life before eventually giving way to Schaupp’s own ascendancy on the international stage as a virtuoso musician.
The show was created after Schaupp, who had been taking acting classes, asked Williamson if there might be a role for her in one of his plays. The playwright misunderstood her request and instead agreed to write a play for her.
Williamson, who interviewed the guitarist, her aunt, mother and grandmother, focuses on Lotte’s life in small-town Germany. Romances came and went with the war before she married her second choice; a promising singing career was never pursued when her jealous husband insisted she was needed at home.
Schaupp tells the story, often breaking into her grandmother’s thick German accent and eccentricities. She intersperses these tales with roughly a dozen guitar pieces performed on a chintzy drawing room set, occasionally overhung with projections of family photos.
Schaupp is not yet a natural actress; given to closing her eyes when performing on the guitar, she often does the same when inhabiting Lotte, a spell-breaking trait. But her performances of pieces by Enrique Granados, Agustin Barrios and Handel, among others, are exquisite.
“Lotte’s Gift” is a small story made powerful because it’s so personal.