*May Contain Spoilers:
Earlier during the Fringe I took the opportunity to watch Vern Thiessen’s The Courier . While getting ready to get into the play, I discovered that Back to Berlin is a companion piece to that play. The events in this play take place almost 60 years after The Courier. It is not a sequel, but it does involve David Dyck, the central character in The Courier and does take the form of son attempting to communicate with his father.
Held in the same location as The Courier, the set is even sparser, with only a chair and some sort of table (from the back of the room my view was slightly obscured by some of the other patrons).
Much like the Courier, Back to Berlin relies on the ability of the actor, in this case the play’s author Vern Thiessen, to grab your attention and hold it throughout. Thiessen has no trouble doing this, as he is as gifted a verbal storyteller as he is a playwright.
The first thing that the play does is offer a brief summary of The Courier. This is done very deftly, and in such a way that if you wanted to do the plays in reverse, the first play wouldn’t be spoiled for you. The rest of the opening follows many of the typical resentments that sons may feel toward their fathers. This is particularly true in the son’s initial reaction to his father’s suggestion that they go visit Berlin.
The trip does not start on a strong note. The annoying habits of the father grate on the son even more. If anything during this time, the son’s regard for the father is being diminished rather than being enhanced. This is definitely not a buddy road trip between father and son.
Overall, the play does a fine job of capturing the father-son dynamic. Most notably it does so in the way it portrays the son as never having understood the life his father has lead. One gets a sense of cruelty and disdain on the part of the son. After all, he has read the history books on the atrocities of Nazi Germany and knows all there is to know, unlike his father who makes claims to being an important courier yet acts like nothing significant happened there.
A visit to the terror museum in former East Berlin, starts to turn around the action of the play. The son takes the father on a train ride, that culminates in Wannsee, site of the conference where the Nazi’s implemented the “Final Solution,” to eliminate the Jewish people. When they get there, the son makes a most startling discovery about his father.
The play culminates with a final train ride out of Berlin, where once again the son is forced to reevaluate how feels about his father. In the end it appears we have been listening to a eulogy about the father.
The train is the thing that in the end holds the play together. It connects it back to The Courier, while at the same time symobolizes the son’s journey as well. It is while on these train rides that the son’s view of his father gradually moves towards empathy. It is while traveling together in silence that understanding starts to emerge. The son finally realizes that there is more to his father’s story, and also why he has never heard it.
The two plays run back to back at the Rory Runnels Theatre in the Artspace building 100 Arthurs street. The Courier 7:00 p.m., Back to Berlin, 9:00 p.m. I’d like to recommend you see them back to back. They are showing every day but Monday.