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‘Cannibals’ offers something to chew on

By |2018-01-15T19:48:12-05:00August 7th, 2008|Entertainment|

By D A. Blackburn

‘The Cannibals’
The Abreact at Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue, 2661 Michigan Ave., Detroit. Friday-Saturday through Aug. 16. Tickets: $10. For information: 313-485-0217 or http://www.theabreact.com.

With George Tabori’s “The Cannibals,” The Abreact has put forth a theatrical feast: full of flavor, but a bit tough to digest. A talented cast of 13 gives the work plenty of spice, but a somewhat manic script may leave a strange aftertaste.
“The Cannibals,” which plays the Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue through Aug. 16, is an examination of life in Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp – a subject that remained at the forefront of Tabori’s mind throughout his 93 years. Though the playwright escaped internment by fleeing to London, his father suffered at the hands of the Nazis, and perished in the camp in 1944.
As such, “The Cannibals” is a very personal look at internment, formatted much as Tabori himself sought understanding of his father’s experience. The play unfolds without a true setting in time or space, existing wholly in the minds of two Auschwitz survivors, Heltai and Hirschler. The play is their recollection of a particularly dark chapter during their imprisonment, when survival demanded tough decisions, the consequences of which have haunted them since.
While the premise is straightforward enough, Tabori has made a curious choice in creating Heltai and Hirschler’s fellow prisoners as their approximations of what their comrades’ children might be like. Each cast member, like Tabori, searches for insight about their father’s imprisonment.
Throughout the play, most performers carry dual roles: that of their father, and that of their self, son or daughter. It gives the work a somewhat schizophrenic feeling, and at times, makes the play hard to follow. That said, the work explores the plight of imprisoned Jews, “politicals” and gypsies with a disarming poignancy. “The Cannibals'” format may be tough to digest, but its messages and morals are palpable, much to the credit of a talented cast and good direction.
Director Alison Christy, winner of last season’s BoxFest, has found a comfortable stride in this awkward script, balancing sorrow and despair with hope, humor and an unfaltering will to survive at all costs. Her cast has invested genuine passion in their roles, giving the work’s emotion clarity even when the script falls short.
As Heltai and Hirschler, Sean Paraventi and Rob Rose give the work a solid grounding. Though Paraventi’s accent work is lack-luster, Rose’s is exquisite. Both are in fine form illustrating the crux of the work, self-preservation versus moral righteousness, and the mental toll that it has taken on their characters.
As Uncle, “The Cannibals'” elder and moral compass (and also his son), Dax Anderson takes on the play’s most difficult role, and succeeds with grace. Likewise, Keith Allan Kalinowski gives an excellent showing as the camp’s scientific voice of reason and a mocking antagonist to Uncle’s moral proselytizer. Equally complex is the role of Nazi office S.S. Schrekinger (and daughter), tackled by Linda Rabin Hammell. As both a calloused and uncaring killer and rapist, and a curious but disgusted daughter, Hammell gives a stirring performance, adding a touch of humanity to the show’s ugliest character.
“The Cannibals” may be a sour script, but The Abreact’s production yields a wealth of excellent performances, and satisfies a hunger for good theater.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.