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Review: La Jolla Playhouse’s “Here There Are Blueberries” a chilling examination of human cruelty

Review: La Jolla Playhouse’s “Here There Are Blueberries” a chilling examination of human cruelty

What is the essence of human evil? Surely Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” is on the short list.

But what about the German officers, doctors and office workers who ran Hitler’s most efficient death camp, Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million Jews and others were massacred during World War II? Were they evil, or just ordinary people swept up in a frenzy of hatred and nationalistic propaganda and easily able to emotionally detach themselves from the end results of their work?

Examining the shadowy areas of human nature is at the heart of La Jolla Playhouse’s chilling world-premiere drama “Here There Are Blueberries,” which opened Sunday in a co-production with New York’s Tectonic Theater Project.

The 90-minute play – written by Tectonic founders Moisés Kaufman and Amanda Gronich, and directed by Kaufman – dissects in clean, clinical fashion the seemingly blissful private lives of Auschwitz staff in their off hours.

Designed in prison-like grayscale by scenic designer Derek McLane, the production is strikingly illustrated with projections of more than 100 images from a photo album anonymously donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2007. The album was created, and later discarded in 1945, by Auschwitz adjutant Karl Höcker , who is a smiling presence in virtually every photo.

Like “The Laramie Project,” Kaufman’s 2000 play about the murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, “Here ThereAre Blueberries” is a documentary story told from the perspective of dozens of real people in and around the crime.

The excellent and underrated ensemble cast, all playing multiple roles, includes Elizabeth Stahlmann, Charlie Thurston Grant James Varjas, Rosina Reynolds, Scott Barrow, Charles Browning, Jeanne Sakata and Frances Uku.

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“Blueberries” is set in the archive room of the Holocaust Museum, where researcher Rebecca Erbelding talks about receiving the album from a dying American counterintelligence officer, and how she and her colleagues uncovered Höcker’s identity and the identities of the other officers and doctors in the photos. .

The blithe demeanor of the officers and young female employees in the picture is often unsettling, especially when the eight-member ensemble cast adds an eerie soundtrack of laughter, accordion music or clinking spoons, as when the women eat fresh blueberries from porcelain bowls.

But the play’s most captivating part is when it leaves the museum and explores how the exposure of these images in the global press affects the devastated descendants of these Nazi officers and doctors. Thurston gives a moving performance as Rainer, the grandson of Auschwitz camp builder Rudolf Höss. Rainer left a youth marked by hatred and violence against others to disprove the Nazi belief that evil is a hereditary trait.

Like “The Laramie Project,” “Blueberries” examines the difficult question of what drives seemingly ordinary people to commit murder, a topical issue in America where racism and mass shootings are on the rise.

As one character says ominously towards the end of “Blåbær”: “Murder is the result of a long process. No genocide starts with the murder. It begins with the words.”

‘Here are blueberries’

When: 19:30 Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 20.00 Thursdays and Fridays. 14.00 and 20.00 Saturdays. 14.00 and 19.00 Sundays. Through August 21

Where: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UC San Diego, La Jolla

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Tickets: $25 to $62

Telephone: (858) 550-1010

Online: lajollaplayhouse.org

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