Jewish hopes stifled in a post world war America
- Credit: Archant
In 1960s America, the affordable full board holiday on The American Plan would have embodied the lifestyle that many had fought for less than two decades before.
But in Richard Greenberg’s 1990 play of the same name, the trauma of the Second World War, and America’s uneasy relationship with race, lies just below the surface of now comfortable lives.
Eva, a wealthy German-Jewish mother, who fled Nazi Europe “on the last boat”, passes on a disturbed legacy of secrets and stymied hope to her fragile, precocious daughter, in David Grindley’s acclaimed production that arrives at the St James Theatre, Victoria next month.
Kentish Town actress Diana Quick plays the overbearing matriarch, holidaying in the Catskills one 60s summer with daughter Lili, who longs to escape her protective stricture.
“It’s about people and a society in transition,” says Quick.
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“Eva is a refugee from Europe whose life has been defined by the experience of having to flee from the Nazis. I think she and her husband, an inventor and a scientist, were rather embedded with the regime and were possibly quite valuable to them so didn’t realise they were in trouble until the last moment.”
Between the 1920s and 1970s this mountainous area of upstate New York became known as the Borscht Belt or Jewish Alps because its lakeside summer resorts were a popular holiday spot for Jewish New Yorkers.
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“The Catskills were once a thriving community of Jewish people going en masse to the hotels because they weren’t welcomed by waspish resorts. It became a place where American comedy entertainers could cut their teeth in the resort theatres,” adds Quick. “Eva is known as the duchess or countess and regards herself as an observer of this slightly vulgar world.”
Lili’s father grew wealthy though was heartbroken that his business had to be fronted by an all American because being Jewish wasn’t acceptable.
“He did not survive America and its disappointments,” says Quick. “Eva wants her daughter to have a happy life in America, to become integrated, but because of her disappointed hopes and expectations Lili comes with a lot of baggage.
“Although she has grown up in free America she’s defined by her mother’s experiences and views.”
Lili in turn is desperate to flee and sees a chance when she starts to fall in love with an eligible suitor, but Eva steps in to wreck the relationship.
The phenomenon of the Holocaust’s effect on the next generation was dealt with in Diane Samuels’ award-winning 1993 play Kindertransport which starred Quick as another Eva who fled the Nazis.
“A lot of the children of kindertransportees spoke of it being difficult to get their parents to speak about their experience and said it was a darkness that hung over their childhood,” said Quick, whose roles have recently included The Queen, Mother Courage and Maria Callas.
Quick requires a pronounced German accent to play Eva and says vocal coaching can be a good way to into a role.
“It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, trying to understand what you are saying and how you are saying it is hard work, but once that beds in you are away.”
For the Queen’s cut glass tones, it was a challenge “to maket it feel like her inevitable way of speaking rather than a caricature”. When Quick and Brideshead Revisited cast members were deciding where to pitch their upper class accents back in 1981 they decided to tone it down for fear of alienating viewers.. “I think the Queen might have had some vocal guidance at some point to become more accessible to the public. During Brideshead we had to decide how everyone spoke.”
Quick has “views” about the script and speaking style for recent and similarly popular period drama Downton Abbey, which has gone too far the other way.
“Some are horrified by the use of very modern jargon – one has to have a sense of history.”
At 66, Quick ranks among our most intelligent and talented actresses, yet suffers from the age old paucity of roles for older women.
“I still feel very engaged (by acting) but I’ve been bumping along lately with not a lot coming my way I thought was interesting enough.”
n The American Plan runs from July 2 until August 10.