The ghosts in Jon Tuttle's play -- in a glorious production at Theatre of NOTE, directed by Michael Rothhaar, are the German suicides in an American POW camp in South Carolina near the end of World War II. Among the issues here is how the Germans are not all Germans, one is Serbian (a heartbreaking and tender performance by Rick Steadman) and a couple are Jews who were swept into the German army and have hidden their identity for all too obvious reasons. The surreal story is seen through the eyes of a main character, a newcomer to the scene, a U.S. Army officer named Bergen (Dan Wingard), who registered as a noncombatant due to his principles of nonviolence. He also happens to be Jewish, which goes down only a little better in South Carolina than it might in Nazi-occupied Berlin. And so begins Tuttle's scintillating mash-up and spinning of stereotypes that form a vicious brand of comedy. Almost nobody is quite what they seem, or how they've been labeled -- and Tuttle drives home that point with irresistible humor. The German POWs are guarded by African Americans (who have their own internal seethings), some of whom don't quite understand the epithet schwarze hurled at them. As though this is a competition for who is lowest on the totem pole. Acting as public information officer, Bergen tries to stage a play with the non-English-speaking Germans -- a play about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves. (Irony doesn't come any more blistering than that.) The Serbian with a perfectly executed, excruciatingly inept dialect is cast as Honest Abe. Before the big show, he makes a break for freedom -- with fake beard glued on. The only English he knows are the lines from the stupid play, which he uses to bed some hayseed's daughter (Rebecca Sigl) before showing up in a redneck bar, chased by the private (Rich PierreLouis) who was supposed to be guarding him. What ensues is a kind of Huckleberry Finn morality play, with everything but the morals. The ensemble is as terrific as the play, with standout performances by Doug Burch, Carl J. Johnson, and a gloriously patronizing portrayal by Brad C. Light as the German translator (an S.S. officer in disguise), Light doubles perfectly and metaphorically into the local sheriff. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 30. (323) 856-8611.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: April 23. Continues through May 30, 2010