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March 07, 2003 - Image 85

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-07

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"Our Specialties"


Surf & Turf Dinner

JET production offers outstanding performances
in thought provoking play.

Special to the Jewish News


eter Sagal's Denial — now
on stage at the Jewish
Ensemble Theatre — is a
thoughtful drama about a
Holocaust "denier" engaged in a legal
scuffle with the federal government.
The play, directed by Evelyn
Orbach, begins when engineering pro-
fessor Bernard Cooper solicits the aid
of pro-bono lawyer Abby Gersten.
The government has charged Cooper
with writing and disseminating publi-
cations that have incited some reac-
tionary readers to violence.
Cooper is a Holocaust denier armed
with carefully chosen "facts" and
"figures." He aims to prove
that accounts of death
camps, gas chambers, and
even Hitler's infamous "Final
Solution," are fictions created by a
worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
Based on tips from an anonymous
source, the government — represented
by prosecutor and religious Jew Adam
Ryberg — seizes Cooper's mailing lists
and begins building a case against him.
Denial is an intelligent play that
continually refuses to simplify the
controversial issues it explores. Should
"hate speech" be protected by "free
speech"? Is Holocaust "revisionism"
valid academic inquiry? Or is it simply
a euphemism for anti-Semitism?
Cooper's political position may be
reprehensible, but — in a pitch-per-
fect performance by Aaron H. Alpern
— he comes across as a disarmingly
soft-spoken and articulate.
Playwright Sagal raises compelling
questions about what it means to
accept the historical record without
skepticism. He challenges the dictate
never forget" by suggesting that indi-
vidual and collective Jewish memory
may not be reliable enough evidence.
Cleverly, Sagal does not depict
Cooper as a fervent anti-Semite. With
brainy glasses and respectable but-
toned-down suit, Cooper initially
appears logical and reasonable. So,
we're left to contemplate the degree to
which he is responsible for crimes
allegedly committed by his readers.
He has — arguably — a legitimate
right to a defense, does he not? This is



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the conflict faced by Gersten, a suc-
cessful Jewish lawyer whose belief in
the constitutional right to free speech
overrides her dislike of Cooper's
polemics. Played by Chicagoan
Rebecca Covey, she's a tricky character.
At times valiant and passionate,
she's also neurotic, manipulative, and
even a bit obtuse. Ultimately,
Gersten's embroilment in the contro-
versial case leads her to make some
questionable ethical choices.
But the most difficult moment in
the play for moral decision making
comes toward the end, when
Noah Gomrowitz — a sagacious and
well-respected author — must confront
a disturbing truth about his own history.
In an absolutely riveting perform-
ance by the eminent Arthur
Beer, associate director of the
University of Detroit Mercy
Theatre Company, Gomrowitz is
brought face to face with Nathan (Sol
Frieder), a surprise eyewitness who
contradicts Gomrowitz's personal
account of his survival at Auschwitz.
Frieder, who played Nathan in the
original production of Denia4 is out-
standing. And the wrenching scene
between Gomrowitz and Nathan is in
itself worth the price of admission.
Once again, the audience is put into a
dizzyingly unsettling position. With
whom do we sympathize here? As
Gomrowitz's autobiographical testament
is unraveled, as Gersten's legal tactics
degrade into unethical vigilantism, the
play refuses to give us an easy answer.
Ryberg, too — in a dynamic and
appealing performance by JET new-
corner Chris Korte — is compromised
by his own zealous naivete.
Indeed, the closest thing Denial has
to a moral barometer comes in the
guise of Stefanie, Gersten's secretary.
In a winning performance by
Walonda J: Lewis, she is a confident,
young, black law student and the
play's only sure figure of honesty and
integrity. We can only wonder at
Sagal's message when she ultimately
repudiates the field of law. Fl

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