Cast members parade their disco-era Macy’s looks in front of the wardrobe mistress as stagehands arrange café props on stage.
“We need to get some stuff up here,” says director Cheryl Atkins, tapping a bank of recessed shelving.
The stage manager rushes in with ceramic dishes and cups to fill the voids.
Blue tape still defines the rough edges of the Shapiro family’s failing lunch counter in midtown Manhattan. The reverse lettering of an outward-facing sign on the set door, legible through the glass pane, reads “Shapiro’s Delicatessen Kosher Style.” By the time of the world premiere of DelikateSSen this weekend at the Adobe Theater (9813 Fourth Street NW), the set will be perfectly engineered to portray a state of disrepair.
Actor Eliot Stenzel, who plays Nazi-hunter television personality Yaakov Zeiman, enters the bustling little theater and makes his way to the dressing room, but is stopped by Atkins, who fluffs his hair with her fingers.
“It’s kind of a ’70s mullet-ish ’do,” she pronounces, appraising his haircut as he slips out of her grasp and beelines for the sanctuary of the green room.
Finally, Atkins calls for places, the lights go down, and the cast of 10 takes the stage for its last week of rehearsals of this original script by her playwright husband, Richard. His latest work brings to life the suspenseful conflict between two rival lunch-counter proprietors, one German and one Jewish, both fictional survivors of the Holocaust.
A voice-over quote from German philosopher Nietzsche accompanies a projection during a scene change: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he doesn’t become a monster himself.”
The two-act drama takes place 27 years after the dozen or so groups of political prisoners, mostly Jews, were liberated from Nazi concentration camps. Incorporating multimedia video with classic black-box staging, the play makes a chilling case that the end of WWII was not the close of a conflict, but rather the birth of a legacy of mutual animosity that has continued to burden successive generations with the need for resolution—or retribution.
“When [Richard] was writing this, the deli here [Nosh] had all that graffiti all over it,” Cheryl says, explaining the timeliness of this theatrical debut for Albuquerque audiences. “There is constant awareness that there’s so much anti-Semitism in the world.”
Originally setting the play in 1978, Richard eventually revised the action to take place six years earlier on the heels of the Munich massacre in ’72, in which the Palestinian group Black September abducted and executed 11 Israeli team members from the Olympic Games in West Germany. Though the Muslim-Jew conflict doesn’t appear in the script, the historical setting shines light on the many ways the aftereffects of WWII continue to send ripples through the world. In that regard, this often shocking story about a familiar topic excels when it turns the tables on the expected characters—with its Jews out for Germans—delivering a powerful message that hate begets hate, and history repeats itself in the most insidious ways.