Sucker Punched

Sucker Punched

‘Things to Do in Munich’ funny — until it isn’t

Becca Martin-Brown

I knew the sucker punch was coming. And still, I was left breathless when it did. There you are, sipping your wine and laughing away at the farcical complications of one man’s trip to Munich — and the next thing you know, you’re blindingly aware that Dachua and the extermination of millions of Jews was only a relatively brief moment ago. And that the world is still a place where killing for a political or religious belief happens every day.

“Things to Do in Munich,” a new script by Oren Safdie, celebrated its world premiere Nov. 2 at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers. The mood was festive — director Ed McClure was beaming, the playwright was beaming, the crowd was excited, and the laughter was hearty. The play, after all, was billed as a “dramedy.”

And it was indeed a lot funnier than the premise might suggest.

Briefly put, it’s the story of a Jewish man who made one final promise to his mother: He will take her ashes to Dachau so she can be reunited with his father, who died there. The descendant of a Holocaust survivor himself, Safdie surrounds his hero — and Sheldon is a hero, albeit an unlikely one — with insanity, irony, chaos and farce of classical stature.

The actors faced no small challenge. Kris Isham as Sheldon basically never left the stage. And Tyler Volz and Anna Hargadon Peterson literally ran circles around him, portraying 25-plus characters with whom he interacts on his ill-fated trip — a rebellious airline employee, a ridiculously entitled passenger, a terrifying talkative cab driver, a high-brow hotel clerk and the Igor-inspired bellman, an ethereal artist who unwittingly mixes Mom’s ashes into her paintings… Thanks to both Safdie and McClure, each of them is somehow surprisingly defined in a 60-minute show — not just by accents and costume pieces but by a very real sense of who they are … and sometimes, why they are. Two characters in particular still have me wondering — a businessman who offers his help but doesn’t give it and an obsessive young woman who “fan girls” Sheldon and follows him to Dachau. I want to see the show again to study them more closely — because every good play leaves the audience asking questions.

The production itself is beautiful, putting the magic of projected design to beautiful use. The design also contributes to that gut punch moment — and everything else falls aside to leave you gasping, horrified and unable to look away. There is racial stereotyping involved in the ending — and I believe it’s intentional, a reminder that whether it’s a whole German army or one man’s jihad, the result is the same: Innocent people die.

As for Safdie, he’s been a friend of APT since Rogers Little Theatre presented a reading of his “Private Jokes, Public Places” coinciding with the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, designed by his father, Moshe Safdie. Now he’s moving on to a new play of his he’s directing in Montreal, called “Gratitude.”

“It’s billed as the story of an innocent high school crush that snowballs into a life-changing moment for three coming-of-age boys and one girl,” he says. “I also have a couple of film scripts that are hopefully inching toward production. And I’m writing a new architecture play called ‘Color Blind’ that takes us inside a jury to select a design for an African-American Museum of History in Washington, D.C. (It’s a fictional take on the actual event.) As for ‘Munich,’ this is the first step, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen with a play in the future.”

And McClure is certainly open to another world premiere.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve been going to New York and seeing shows, and it mystifies me that his work is not done more than it is. I find his scripts to be as compelling as many, many things I’ve seen.”


‘Things to Do in Munich’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Nov. 8-10; 2 p.m. Nov. 11

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers

COST — $22-$29

INFO — 631-8988

Categories: Cover Story