History, of both a textbook and a personal nature, define Lionel Goldstein’s new play, Mandate Memories, which is having its world premiere at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach under the direction of David Ellenstein. A postcard-pleasant country house in Britain’s Berkshire County, circa 2009, is the setting for these significant history lessons, which have a deep-seated effect on Holocaust survivor Gustav Frolich (Apollo Dukakis) and the unsuspecting (but increasingly wary) Jane Stirling (Rosina Reynolds), owner and lone inhabitant of the house to whom he pays a visit. Before that visit is over, dark secrets are revealed and Gustav’s and Jane’s lives will have changed in a way that will leave your heart in your throat.
The British Mandate for Palestine, which went into effect in 1923, was designed to administer parts of what had once been the Ottoman Empire. What it became was a dividing of Palestine that established a national home for the Jews. The mandate and its consequences are embedded in Gustav’s tortured past, and Jane believes that her father, whom she never knew, died a hero in a fight against terror. But what begins as a tense philosophical confrontation between the pair soon becomes chilling human drama as at an almost achingly deliberate pace Gustav tells Jane the truth behind her father’s death and the role he himself has played in her life ever since.
Goldstein and Ellenstein, North Coast Rep’s artistic director, previously worked together on the playwright’s Halpern and Johnson, and the seamlessness of their collaboration is clear in Mandate Memories’ effective shifts in tone and in the development of the complex relationship between Gustav and Jane. Dukakis and Reynolds are stalwart in their performances, the latter especially affecting in her stunned silences and internal torment as Gus shares with Jane some gut-wrenching realities.
Ever-present on a table in Jane’s living room, untouched, is the letter Gus has brought to her, one written by her father to her mother. Its contents are not revealed, but by story’s end you know it’s speaking to Jane’s heart, and possibly to ours.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.