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"Lebensraum" at the Firehouse Theatre Project 

Room to Grow

"Lebensraum," the latest from the Firehouse Theatre Project, is a fascinating and somewhat reckless jumble of political irony and interpersonal dynamics. This high-concept work by playwright Israel Horovitz poses an intriguing question: What if a German chancellor decided to atone for the Holocaust by inviting 6 million Jews to move to his country? Would such a monumental gesture finally reconcile Germany with its past or would it rip open the scars still healing 60 years after World War II?

Unless you are a history buff, you probably won't get it that Horovitz is presenting this fictional offer of Lebensraum (or "living space") as an antidote for Hitler's concept of Lebensraum for ethnic Germans that he used to justify his brutal tirade across Europe. In fact, it is the vastness of the historical subtext that eventually scuttles this play. Characters relate stories from the war to provide a foundation for the present action. But the sound-bite format of these anecdotes drains them of any real soul. Without that solid foundation, the modern-day story only occasionally resonates with the kind of weighty significance that the playwright clearly hoped for.

It doesn't help that most of the nearly 40 characters presented here are completely one-dimensional. This production works best when its three actors are given a little space of their own to develop full-fledged characters.

Christopher Dodd embodies innocent charm as Mike Linsky, the first Jew to accept the offer to move to Germany. Justin Dray and Sara Heifetz project a believable chemistry as young lovers who unwittingly get caught in the crossfire of the "homecoming" program's escalating tensions. Director Bill Patton deserves praise for taking on this ambitious work and almost making a profound piece of theater out of it. But by the time the show reaches its regrettably didactic ending, it's clear that his best efforts have come up a bit short.

"Lebensraum" plays at Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 4. Tickets are $12. Call 355-2001 for
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