While America was immersed in the lead-up to World War II, Peter Bergson was a sword in the side of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. At stake was the mass murder of Jews in Europe, who were being put through Hitler's ethnic-cleansing machine, balanced against the U.S. government's anti-Semitism and widespread apathy toward the "Jewish problem." Bergson (righteously essayed by Steven Schub) was one of the fire-starters in getting America's attention focused on Hitler's "final solution," already taking place in the gas chambers of Nazi-dominated Europe. Though Jews in general were hesitant to speak out, Bergson, a lifetime fighter from his days in the underground militia in British-mandated Palestine, had no compunction about directing high-level focus on the deplorable situation. His targets included such luminaries as Rabbi Stephen Wise (underplayed by Morlan Higgins); Breckinridge Long (a snakey Brian Carpenter), assistant secretary in charge of immigration; and Roosevelt (an effectively rocklike James Harper). Aid to the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe was ignored in the 1940s, in the face of breaking with Britain, fear of retaliation, and the stunning silence of the about-to-be-slaughtered lambs.
This is monumental subject matter, somewhat flattened by Deborah LaVine's presentational, face-forward direction, some questionable casting, and overly simplistic dramaturgy; but it's essentially a dramatized history class with a plethora of pointers waved at us. Were Bergson (overlooking Schub's atrocious accent); his associate, Sam Merlin (William Dennis Hurley, also in poor accent); Bergson's eventual real-life wife, Betty (cutely played by Kirsten Kollender); and Wise (uncomfortably cast) the sole architects of America's post-Holocaust history? With or without knowledge of all the facts, this is an unsettling introduction to the politics of WWII, which infiltrates reality in the name of theatre and presents dramatic fiction as "don't argue with me" fact.
The inevitable barreling toward cliché is only to be expected when presenting real-life figures we know only from our history books (pre-perpetual TV coverage), though Ben Hecht (Dennis Gersten), speechwriter Sam Rosenman (Gregory G. Giles), and Rosenman's secretary, Theresa (Donne McRae), cast their own light. Playwright Bernard Weinraub's play deals movingly with the huge social issues, if we accept this as drama, if not quite documentary, and that some history may be stranger than fiction and more vile.
Presented by and at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jul. 19-Sept. 14. (323) 663-1525. www.fountaintheatre.com.