'Taking Sides'

What is the limit of the moral responsibility a person has towards his fellow man? Wilhelm Furtwangler, one of the present century's greatest conductors, faces that question in British playwright Ronald Harwood's 1995 play "Taking Sides" that will be performed by Ashland Community Theatre at the end of March at the Havurah synagogue in Ashland.

In the play, U.S. Army Maj. Steve Arnold is in Berlin in 1946 at the end of World War II preparing for the Nazi trials. Arnold has been sent to pursue U.S. accusations against Wilhelm Furtwangler, the renowned conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, for staying in Germany after Hitler came to power and serving the Nazi regime.

Furtwangler believes that as an artist he was completely independent of politics and served his country by staying and contributing the uplifting power of great music. Arnold steadfastly maintains that the politics of Nazism colored all of Furtwangler's actions, and by staying he was complicit.

Harwood uses Furtwangler's biography to present a difficult moral dilemma. Furtwangler, whose classical recordings are still being sold the world over, was a tragic figure by any yardstick when compared with his young rival, Herbert von Karajan, who was a member of the Nazi party and still managed to achieve a great success after the war.

Furtwangler was not a party member and tried to save Jewish musicians from the Nazis, but after the war he was still charged with collaboration and although he was not found guilty of any crime, he became a pariah in the West and his career collapsed. It was claimed that he had continued to conduct the Berlin Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra despite the fact, that all the Jewish musicians had been dismissed. He even conducted a concert for Hitler's birthday.

The play does not stand in judgment but rather invites the audience to put itself in Furtwangler's place.

"Taking Sides" was made into a movie in 2001. Harwood also wrote "The Dresser" and "The Pianist," both of which have become movies.

The theater version of "Taking Sides" had a 10-week run on Broadway in 1966 and was presented as a play reading in November 2005 by Ashland Community Theatre. The theater company presented a fully staged production in October 2007, at The Elks Club in Ashland.

Guest director Jeannine Grizzard, who directed the October 2007 ACT production, is bringing back her original cast with David Dials as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Michael Meyer as Major Arnold, Bob Brazeau as second violinist Helmuth Rode, MiLisa Cleo as Arnold's secretary, Emmi Straube, Caleb Brumley as Arnold's assistant, U.S. Army Lt. David Wills, and Victoria Stewart as Tamara Sachs.

"Taking Sides" opens at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 29, and runs through April 6 with performances at — p.m. Sunday, March 30; 8 p.m. Monday, March 31 and — p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Avenue, Ashland.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the Music Coop in Ashland. Call 840-1527.

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