New Play by Son of Yad Vashem Architect Tackles Why We Build Holocaust Memorials (INTERVIEW)
by Zach Pontz
False Solution is a provocative new one-act play by Oren Safdie being performed at La MaMa in New York City that grapples with the construction of a Holocaust Memorial in Poland, a May-December love affair between two architects, and their pursuit of design perfection.
The play revolves around a single encounter in early 1990s Manhattan between world renowned architect Anton Seligman, played on-point by Sean Haberle, and a much younger intern, Linda Johansson, portrayed by the stunning Christy McIntosh.
Anton, currently working on the design for a Holocaust museum to be built in Poland, accidentally, or not as it will be revealed, happens upon Linda in a studio in his firm’s building. What appears to be an innocent exchange between two strangers soon evolves into an exploration of the complexities of communication, the Holocaust, the creative process and love.
The play works in many ways: it is both about Anton and Linda’s attempts to design a museum and the underlying metaphors borne of this endeavor.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Safdie said the interaction between the two characters grew from his creative process.
“The question is: how close do you have to be to feel the pain—does it help you or hurt you to be emotionally involved? Both of them have this connection—or this pseudo-connection—to the Holocaust and how is it informing the design?” Safdie said.
“But It’s also an anatomy of an affair, in a sense. They’re coming together through their love of architecture, to work together on this project. The building at the end that they create, well it’s like a couple giving birth.”
But, then, Safdie’s play isn’t that simple. It is also an indictment of what he sees as the commercialization of the Holocaust.
Memorials to the victims “seem to be popping up everywhere,” he says. “This idea that we need to build something, otherwise people are going to deny the Holocaust: well, as we see today, whoever is going to deny, is going to deny. I don’t think it’s a question of quantity. I think that can even feel intrusive to the general population.”
And then, too, there’s the issue of whether or not an edifice, no matter how genuine or ingeniously designed, can provoke in a visitor the horror of the Shoah, which is Linda’s criticism of Anton in the play.
“When I go to the museum in Berlin I feel as if its trying to manipulate me to feel like what it would have been like during the Holocaust,” Safide said. “I mean, I don’t know how you can get close to feeling like that.”
Safdie has always been fascinated by architecture. His father, Moshe, designed the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, and the groundbreaking Habitat 67 in Montreal, where the younger Safdie was raised, among many other world-renowned structures. Before finding his calling as a playwright, the younger Safdie also studied architecture in school.
Incorporating the subject into his work has become an almost indispensable element of his art, he said. “It’s been a way for me to explore an issue while keeping it within certain boundaries, which allows me to explore issues outside. There’s an argument in the play about if you’re free to do anything, and write anything, it can be paralyzing.”
But Safdie is quick to point out that he has written many other plays that don’t incorporate the theme at all. Of course, a previous play, Private Jokes, Public Places, does, and it, too, found a home at La MaMa, where it was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the finest plays to appear on-stage in New York City during the last decade.
Architecture or not, the real pleasure of Safdie’s writing is in the fascinating questions it raises—and False Solutions asks many questions— many Safdie can’t answer himself.
For example, commenting on the relationship that develops between Anton and Linda, Safdie isn’t so certain of the motivations behind it.
“Dealing with my actors, I’ve been telling them: is she really looking to have an affair with this architect, or has this been preconceived from the beginning to try to get him to change his design? It’s a bit of both, I think.”
But then, Safdie insists it’s a play about passion. Passion for expression, for people, for art.
He said: “I told the actors: ‘If you get half the words wrong, but you get the passion stuff right, I’ll hug you!'”
False Solution plays at La Mama Thursday-Sunday through June 30th. Get tickets here.