Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine combines comic banter with a story of political intrigue and personal sacrifice in the fight against the Nazis. The Berkeley Rep co-production with the Guthrie Theater is directed by Lisa Peterson, and runs through January 14th. She says although it’s not frequently staged, the play is particularly timely at the moment.
There’s more information about the production at the Berkeley Rep website.
The play brings the turmoil of displaced war refugees, and the struggles against fascism to the well-to-do home of Fanny Farrelly, near Washington DC. Her daughter is coming home after 20 years, with children and a German husband. The suspicious Nazi-sympathizing Romanian count who is staying there too threatens their safety. “When I read the play, I was probably a little trepidatious about it,” Peterson says. “But it really grabbed me right away, I was surprised by the humor, and then I found myself gripped by the story.” That humor continues, amid the rising tensions. Hellman was making an important point to Americans who so far had not been personally touched by the War. “You have to remember that this is not written in retrospect. This is written well before everything that we know now was known. I believe she started writing it in the late summer of ‘39, sort of right after the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, and therefore the takeover of Poland. But, the Nazis hadn’t gone into France yet. They were about to… This play would be an interesting play, no matter what. But it is definitely timely at the moment as we – some of us – try to think about protecting democratic forms in this country.”