The Santa Barbara City College theater group's production of Ronald Harwood's "Taking Sides"s directed by Pope Freeman. This is a riveting drama about Wilhelm Furtwangler and the question of, when faced with the tyranny of Hitler's Germany, do you leave or stay and fight from within, as Furtwangler did. The single set is the office of the denazification tribunal officer. It's simple, somewhat ramshackle, with broken windows at the top, and is representative of post-war Germany. There are six characters, three central to the story and three accessory. Major Steve Arnold is the swaggering interrogator who wants to nail the great conductor. He's a former insurance fraud investigator and he knows that the world is full of swindlers and it's up to him to root them out. He also was at Belsen-Bergen two days after the liberation by U.S. troops. He's haunted by the smell of burning flesh, the crematoriums, and open graves. He has nightmares about it, even when he's awake, and says he will never forget it. He's also a simple man who understands nothing of the arts and is openly contemptuous of them and the people who practice them. His target is Furtwangler, for whom he has a passionate hatred, for all of these reasons. He has achieved fame and fortune, is regarded almost universally as the greatest conductor of the century, and he stayed in Germany during WWII. Edward K. Romine's Furtwangler is the exact opposite. He's meticulous in his dress, formal in his manners and, to him art is everything. He speaks of the only true freedom being in the concert hall when you are transported by a great performance of Beethoven or Wagner. He rhapsodizes about the power of music to transcend the physical world. He feels that art is more than politics and it was given to him to stay in Germany and do his utmost to preserve the culture of his people against those who would destroy it. These two mercurial forces are somewhat balanced out by Jayson Rackley's Lieutenant Wills. He's a German Jew whose parents sent him to live with relatives in the U.S. when Hitler took over. They died in the Holocaust and he has been assigned to help the denazification tribunals. When he was a boy, his father had taken him to see Furtwangler conduct, and at one point he says "You opened a new world to me. Since I first heard you, music had been my chief comfort in life." The other characters add their experiences to the mix. From second violinist Helmuth Rode we hear how a good man becomes a Nazi: "You start by censoring what you say, then what you think, then what you feel. Tamara Sachs married a Jew. Furtwangler helped her husband, a pianist, escape to France. He was eventually deported and died in the Holocaust. When she is being grilled by Steve, who wants the truth, she asks, "Whose truth? The victor or the vanquished? You're behaving like them." Richard Hoag is stupendous as the smug, leering Steve. He's a little man who will make his mark by bringing down the big man. He offers work for testimony, whether it's true or not, and twists every exonerating fact to fit his own preconceptions. Furtwangler says, "I love my country. To leave it in it's darkest hour would have been shameful." An analogy can be drawn to the actions of many Americans during the Vietnam era. Many chose to stay and oppose a war they regarded as unjust. Some left. They all believed they w ere doing what was right. Mark Twain said: "One must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong...You cannot shirk this...to decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country. Let men label you as they may." Wilhelm Furtwangler was a great man who, in 1934, was faced with a choice. He choice to stay in Nazi Germany. He did everything in his power to make the lives of the persecuted easier, whenever he could. He never joined the Nazi Party, but they used him for propaganda. Robert Kennedy said, "Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build up a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistence." We're left with the question of , is there value in the actions of a single person to change what's in his power to change, in the face of tyranny as oppressive as Nazi Germany? He could have easily left and maintained his life-style anywhere in the world. He chose to stay and dedicated his life to fighting the Nazi's in small, but very effective ways. In the end all take sides in this tremendous production of Ronald Harwood's "Taking Sides" by the Santa Barbara City College Theater Arts Group.


 

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Last Updated January 8, 1998 by Paul Berenson