Address Unknown, with Evgeny Kissin and Thomas Hampson, based on the short novel by Kathrine Kressman Taylor.
The year is 1933. Two childhood friends, the German Martin Schulse and the Jew Max Eisenstein, bound by student fraternity in Germany and then a gallery business in America, are now separated by the Atlantic.
Max continues the Schulse-Eisenstein Galleries in San Francisco, while Martin and his wife and young children move back to native Germany.
Letters fly back and forth, from the Bavarian mansion, across the ocean, to San Francisco, to dear Maxel, and others are sent back to dear Martin. They are full of tenderness, common memories, and hope for Germany’s happy future…
When the director of the famous music festival in Verbier, Martin Engstroem, suggested Evgeny Kissin and Thomas Hampson stage a reading of the novel as part of the festival, and engaged director Marianna Arzumanova to help transform this text for stage, nobody expected what was to develop. A full theatrical experience, in which the story of the friendship of a Jew and a German, slowly and painfully destroyed by the hellish Nazi propaganda machine, becomes a contrast of two competing worlds. The world of freedom on one side collides with the abyss of a totalitarian world on the other, hurtling towards inevitable tragedy.
The contrast of these worlds, through scenography, through soundtrack, and the addition of female characters gives the brilliant 1938 text of Kressman Taylor an incredibly intimate and sharp resonance. It is the story of one friendship, one love, one betrayal, like thousands of others, which is explored and dissected.
The performance is especially notable for the psychological interpretation of the text. How, under the pressures of propaganda and conformism, does a charming and talented artist and specialist in history of art become a rabid defender of the new Nazi regime? How exactly does he explain his newfound beliefs?
Kressman Taylor’s novel, and Marianna Arzumanova’s script are astonishingly resonant with the events in present-day Russia, fuelled by propaganda, which, as Goebbels said, can turn ‘any nation into a herd of pigs’.
Commitment to a totalitarian state inevitably brings disaster, not only to its enemies, but also to the believers in its ideals. As Evgeny Kissin states in one of his interviews, ‘A person who serves a regime which builds concentration camps deserves to be an inmate in those same camps.’
Thomas Hampson is both likeable and terrifying as Martin, and Evgeny Kissin poignant and deep as Max. The three female characters, Elsa, Griselle and Mrs Fleshmann are all portrayed by Karina Arzumanova.
The original script, direction, scenography and soundtrack are work of Marianna Arzumanova, the director and founder of Prague’s Theatre MA - divadloma.cz
The show premiered on 18th July 2022 in Verbier, and was shown again on 5th June in Schloss Elmau.