In Braunau | A Note from the Artistic Director

In Braunau | A Note from the Artistic Director

Bill English, Artistic DirectorWhen we first read In Braunau by Dipika Guha, there were only 60 pages—around two-thirds of a play. The characters and conflict had been set in motion but there was, as yet, no ending. As anyone who has written any kind of fiction will attest, it is the finish to a story that is the most elusive to pin down. And yet we committed immediately to include it in this year’s Sandbox Series. What was it about this story that so captured our attention? What gave us the courage to commit to an unfinished script, despite the obvious risks? What made it stand out from the 400 other scripts that were considered for the Sandbox Series of World Premieres?

Our world is so bedeviled with nationalistic and religious extremism. It is everywhere we look. We shake our heads incomprehensive for the “whys” behind racist and sectarian hatred. We find it nearly impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of people who turn to the security of absolute power, to the comfort of belonging by excluding others, to the seductive headrush of hate. We swear we could never be swayed by such forces, yet safe in our liberal Bay Area bubble, we feel free to hate the haters who we can’t understand. We congratulate ourselves that we are better than they.

How potent it is then to throw these two idealistic, entitled American 20-somethings down the rabbit hole of In Braunau, where they plan to start up a B&D (Bed and Dinner) in the home where Hitler was born, hoping to attract others who want to change the karma by transforming this “birthplace of evil” into a safe place for dialogue. How sure they are that the evil doesn’t exist, that there are only good people who do bad things. And how little they understand the forces that will swirl around them turning their dream into a nightmare.

Is evil a real force at work in the world? Is it a disease one can catch? Are there seeds lying dormant in all of us that when watered could turn any of us toward our darkest sides? I think we suspect that these things are true, but we don’t want to admit it. We who have never faced millions of deaths in our country from war, or been ripped from our homes and turned into stateless outcasts. It is the fearless genius of Dipika Guha who turns our faces to face the inconvenient truth that evil sneaks up on the unsuspecting, and masquerading as national pride or sense of belonging, takes over unsuspecting hearts and minds.

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Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in twenty years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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1 Comment

Greg McClune - 01. Jul, 2018 - Reply

Let me start with two observations. I understand that a play produced in Sandbox should be considered to be one “in development” and may change significantly before it appears in “prime time,” if at all. Second, your artistic notes are intended to both assist an audience with background information and place the production in a positive light.

That said, it is hard for me to detect, in the middle of the confusing, sophomoric mess of “In Braunau” anything worth salvaging for an ultimate, professional production. After the play, I read the Chronicle review and thought the reviewer was kind. Yes, it does take a lot of courage to produce a play such as this, especially when it lacked an ending when you took it on, and, seriously, you have to be commended for even making the attempt. But, frankly, this play reflects poorly on SF Playhouse and the reaction of the audience when I saw it confirmed it. I am astonished to read that this was the best of over 400 plays you received.
On the other hand! Last week we saw the final production of “An Entomologist’s Love Story.” The play was delightful. Well written, beautifully developed, well acted and unpredictable in the best sense; you should be justifiably proud of your involvement in, and association with, the production. (In fact, if there is any way to see a copy of the script, I would love to read it). I realize that it may seem unfair to discuss these two plays in the same comment because this play is much further along in development than “In Braunau” but, even after some reflection, I see nothing redeemable in that play.

We are looking forward to “Sunday in the Park With George.”