RECHNITZ, written by Elfried Jelinek, directed by Ildiko Nemeth at The New Stage Theatre Company, struck a chord in me as I am sure it will in others who see this play. The play resonates with our current preoccupation with truth versus “alternate facts.” In this production, an obtuse and abstract script by the Nobel Prize winning Jelinek is crafted into a memorable play conveying a relentless message about the suppression of facts and the avoidance of truth and accountability.
The play resurrects the horrendous massacre of 180-200 Hungarian Jews during the last stages of World War II, in the town of Rechnitz on the Austrian-Hungarian border. The Russians are closing in on the Nazis and Countess Margit Von Battyany decides to throw a wild party for the aristocrats of the town and the occupying Nazi officers. The debauchery culminates in a sporting spree, the shooting to death of the emaciated Jews brought from a forced labor camp to a barn on the property.
The multi-media play sets the stage with a video depicting the war time context of the massacre, then moves on to the main premise, namely the suppression and denial of events leading up to and including the massacre. The minimalist stage set, lighting and sound design support a cast of 7 actors who pace back and forth, gripping the audience with the narrative of the “banality of evil,” the killing and burial of the Jews and the burial of all facts and any talk of the massacre.
The exposition, both in abstract and real terms, of the suppression of facts and the installation of fear struck a chilling note in me. It took me back to my own experience in Sri Lanka and the Tamil genocide. The triumphalism following the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military in May of 2009 on the pretext of a humanitarian operation, has the same trappings, namely, a blanket of silence and outright denial of war crimes of monumental proportions. We see similar denials and obfuscations today by the perpetrators of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing and Syrian massacres, just as historically, we saw in the killing fields of Cambodia and Armenia among others.
The moral in the dramatic resurrection of this evil event? Although accountability is moot, eventually truth prevails! This is a play tailor made for our times. It deserves to burst out of this small theater and be experienced by a much larger audience. We need to be reminded!
(Anandaraj L. Ponnambalam)