Theatre Exile’s latest play, Camp Siegfried, is a love story in an unlikely environment. It’s the summer of 1938 and a shy teenage American girl is summering at a camp on Long Island. A nice young man, whose father is an important figure in the Camp’s leadership, shows up and, you know, the kids get together. Love happens, even in a setting dedicated to concentrated evil, as an American girl becomes a fierce Nazi uber-princess.
The Amerikadeutscher Bund, founded in 1936 ran a number of summer training camps in the U.S., including Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, on Long Island. The camps, run with the aim of promoting Nazi Germany, offer sports, swimming, sailing, archery, bonfires, and indoctrination, along with soothing night sounds. The Nazis in Germany and in the U.S. were awaiting ‘Der Tag’, the great day that Germany would establish her supremacy. (Is this at all reminiscent of the failed Trump insurrection?)
The inherent humanity of relationships triumphs over the back story of brainwashing. The story is about two kids falling in love, served with a side order of swastika, delivered on the sly. A ninety minute, no intermission performance on a single set with just two characters may seem like a formula for turgid theater. However, these impressive actors keep us entertained as the director moves things effortlessly forward. The depiction of the ups and downs of the budding romance illustrates some fine writing on the part of playwright Bess Wohl.
As Winston Churchill said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But human nature is a constant, and we’ll repeat it no matter how much we know. Strong among the elements of discord and war is demagoguery. It is currently on the upswing, thriving on a lack of education, and with a third of our population living in the thrall, there’s no cure for it. Facts be damned, we’ll believe whatever we want and God help us.
[Theatre Exile, 1340-48 South 13th Street] October 26-November 12, 2023; theatreexile.org
Director: Deborah Block
Cast: Adam Howard, Jenna Kuerzi