Jewish Journal - Apr. 01, 2001

If You`re There

New Theater Aims to Spread Message
ROTGESICHT: Scratch a whitey long enough and you find a fascist.
WEISMAN: A controversy with you about social inequalities I need like a hole in the head.

At a desolate height in the desert the Jewish Weisman and his daughter Ruth encounter the weary Copperface (Rotgesicht), a supposed Native American. Instead of inspiring friendship, their common feeling of resentment for social stigma incites a grotesque exchange of accusation and namecalling between them. In the attempt to humiliate the other, each is confronted with his own self-degradation. In a tournament for "Who`s got it worse," the two compete with their deficiencies and complexes while Ruthie keeps score.

In George Tabori`s contemporary farce, Weisman und Rotgesicht: a Jewish Western, the playwright portrays the prevailing clichés, biases, and collective psychoses to which even the victim of popular prejudice subscribes. At the same time, he suggests the possibility of individual identity that transcends the socially imposed stereotype.

The current production of Rotgesicht and Weisman is being presented by The Jewish Theater of Austria, a travelling theater with a social commitment to encourage a broader understanding and friendship between Jews and non-Jews. Established in 1999 by its founder and artistic director, Warren Rosenzweig, the Jewish Theater of Austria, is the first year-round project of its kind in Western Europe in over 60 years, and has been presenting its program in public since 2000, aiming to fill a gap in Austrian arts and culture.

Until 1938, Vienna was an active center for Jewish theater that was prized by Jews and Gentiles alike. Through theater, Jewish culture, in all its diversity, was portrayed and critically examined, along with the problems of the day, including the rapid rise in anti-Semitism. Of all this, but a faint memory now remains. The artistic aim of the Jewish Theater of Austria is a contemporary renaissance of this aspect of Austrian culture. The founder hopes to promote expressions of Jewish self-identity through the theater arts, exploring the many sides of Jewish consciousness, and to act as an antidote against intolerance and resistance to the lessons of the past. Through the production and touring of plays and musical theater, and the development and presentation of dance, performance art, and cabaret on themes of identity, the theater founder believes his company can further the understanding of the turbulent history of international Jewry and foster positive interaction between people of different social groups, cultural backgrounds, and beliefs.

JTA programming has been made possible with support from the City of Graz, along with many institutions, businesses, and individuals. The Jewish Theater of Austria seeks the participation of international sponsors, artists, and venues.

© 2001 Jewish Journal