The power of Address Unknown lies in the simplicity of its telling. It is a story of friendship and its disintegration, and of the bitterness and tragedy that unfolds as a result. Published in 1938, it is also a damning indictment of the emergence of National Socialism in Germany. But instead of the familiar yet generalised images of political rallies and grand speeches that conveyed the spread of nazism at this time, we are brought a far more personalised and therefore powerful account.
The year is 1932 and business partners Martin, of Aryan origin, and Max, a Jew, continue to correspond through letters, after the former has left San Francisco for Munich.
Their letters start off as expected, conveying deep warmth and fondness for one another, a seemingly unbreakable bond. But gradually the relentless propaganda and surge of patriotism in Martins homeland takes hold.
The letters change suddenly and dramatically; Martin says he cannot write to a Jew any more as it is frowned upon by the authorities, before he crushes Max by justifying his governments approach. He adds: I loved you despite of you being a Jew, not because of it.
The force of the play would be lost of course without a strong showing from both actors, Ray Doliner (Max) and Douglas Dean (Martin). Both of them excel. Doliner is the gentle philosopher, aghast at his friends actions but maintaining an impressive cool as he embarks on his revenge. Likewise Dean begins with a soft if jovial performance, before coming into his own as he strides the stage roaring his approval of his countrys new sense of identity, a brilliant personification of a nation tragically caught up in the euphoria of the times.
The play is nicely directed by Michael Fitzpatrick, as no one line or movement from the actors goes unnoticed. Two actors, a table and a spotlight ensure the raw emotion and unsettling tension at its heart are not masked by over-production.
Ultimately, this production of Address Unknown does justice to writer Kathrine Kressmans piece, now translated into ten languages and made into a film.
English Theatre in Rome, Teatro LArciliuto, Piazza Montevecchio 5, tel. 066879419. Further performances 14 Dec 21.00, 18 Dec 19.00, 15.