- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

Ari Roth is excited. "These are good times," the artistic director of Theater J says. Mr. Roth's play "Born Guilty" will be produced by Theater J beginning tomorrow night in repertory with the premiere of its sequel, "Peter and the Wolf," which starts previews Tuesday. The two productions will be staged through July 14 at the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater in the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW.

"Born Guilty" is based on a 1988 book by Peter Sichrovsky of interviews with children of Nazis. It explores the issue of generational guilt. Mr. Sichrovsky, an Austrian Jew, later became general secretary of the right-wing Freedom Party in Austria and close to extremist Joerg Haider.

In 1991, Arena Stage founder Zelda Fichandler commissioned, produced and directed Mr. Roth's script of "Born Guilty." In discussing the restaging, Mr. Roth says, "Part of this is me appreciating that a play stands the test of time."

John Vreeke will direct "Born Guilty." He wanted to make it different from previous productions. To accomplish this, Mr. Vreeke decided to have the entire cast of eight actors onstage for every scene, which has about 20 vignettes.

The eighth member of the cast, who represents someone who was a Nazi during the Holocaust, is an addition from previous productions. The part is played by actor Irving Jacobs.

As Mr. Sichrovsky's character asks questions of second-generation and third-generation children of Nazis, the play becomes a sort of confessional, Mr. Vreeke says.

"The place becomes a holy place," he says. "All of us have some inherited baggage we carry around with us because of what our parents gave us."

Because the same actors in "Born Guilty" also appear in "Peter and the Wolf," Mr. Vreeke says his job has been considerably easier than theirs. About 70 characters appear throughout the two productions.

"I have every other day off," he says. "They are learning two plays at once. It's a monumental task."

In "Peter and the Wolf," Mr. Roth continues the themes of "Born Guilty" and explores the political path taken by Mr. Sichrovsky. As part of the research for writing "Peter and the Wolf," Mr. Roth took a trip to Germany and Austria through a grant from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York City.

The new play starts on the set of "Born Guilty" after a 1991 performance in the District, where Mr. Sichrovsky's character and a German historian get into a fight.

"Peter reveals himself to be a political conservative," Mr. Roth says. "This turns into a verbal wrestling mania. He doesn't like how the Germans do public acts of repentance."

The real-life Mr. Sichrovsky will be coming to see the shows, Mr. Roth notes. Rick Foucheux, the actor who performs the part of Mr. Sichrovsky, says he did a lot of research to prepare for the role.

"You dig inside of yourself and find what you can to resemble the characters you are playing," Mr. Foucheux says. "I try to understand where he's coming from and in essence like him."

Mr. Foucheux says it has been a wonderful experience to be part of a play that is more than a decade old and simultaneously to work on a brand-new play by the same author.

"These plays are very interwoven," he says. "So you can look at it as one huge play. Everyone is really being kept on their toes."

Peg Denithorne, director of "Peter and the Wolf," says working on a new play brings the challenge of constant revisions.

"The script is evolving," she says. "It's a different process than doing a play that was done 10 years ago. We get new pages every day."

Miss Denithorne says she finds the topic of anti-Semitism timely. She sees a growing anti-foreigner movement in Europe. With Mr. Sichrovsky's real-life alliances with Austria's Freedom Party, he has created controversy as a Jew in a high-profile position.

"He appeared to be deserting the Jewish community," she says. "Yet every story is much more complex. This play says that, which is wonderful. It's easy to point the finger, but when you look at the other side, you see how difficult their choices are."

WHAT: "Born Guilty" and "Peter and the Wolf" in repertory

WHERE: Theater J at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW

WHEN: Starts tomorrow. Call 800/494-TIXS or check online at www.theaterj.org for dates and times.

TICKETS: $18 to $30

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