When 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.