Review: Times Like These at California Stage

Showtimes: Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Through 11/18; $15-$20; California Stage, 1725 25th Street; (916) 451-5822;
Rated 5.0

A powerful and compelling play is now at California Stage. Times Like These, written by John O’Keefe and directed by Richard Winters, tells the story of two German actors brutalized by Nazi oppression. Meta Wolff, Germany’s most celebrated actress of the 1930s, is suddenly banned from the theater for being Jewish. Her husband Oskar Weiss is permitted to continue performing because he is Aryan, though as time goes on the circumstances destroy them both.

Meta privately directs Oskar in a production of Hamlet which satirizes the Nazis, though she sinks further into depression as time passes and Nazi brutality increases. She has heartbreaking moments, realizing that as she was raised Protestant, she had “never known hate till now.” She reaches a breaking point when German officers break in, mess up her apartment and steal her treasured scripts and radio.

Meta is torn between her love of Oskar and her frustration at being closeted in her apartment and deprived of her own glory. This dynamic unleashes intense, disturbing drama.

The success of this play depends on having strong actors, and in Lois Masten Ewing and Gary Alan Wright, California Stage has two of the best. Ewing is riveting in some of her monologues, and Wright’s angst at wanting to enjoy his newfound success—but not at the expense of his wife’s emotional stability—is palpable. This exploration of human weakness puts a more personal face on the victims of Nazism.