Theater for the New City, New York, 2001
Directed & Written by Barbara Kahn
Isabel Paton Roberts
Set and costume design by Andy Wallach
Lighting design by Jon Andreadakis
Stage manager Heidi Hoffman
German dialogue by Nina Schmitz
Photographs by Joe Bly
“After the war was over Berlin 1946. Two women. One love.”
Historical Inspiration for the Play
The Tempest-Tossed was loosely inspired by The Search, a movie about stateless refugee children in postwar occupied Germany. I decided to explore in a play what would happen to two lesbian lovers cast adrift among the other “homeless, tempest-tossed” of Berlin.
My historical research revealed both shocking and dramatic information. Against a background of residual anti-Semitism and homophobia, concentration camps turned into displaced persons camps, senseless bureaucracy and fear of discovery, two women struggle to stay together and come to America. The same horrific war that brought upheaval and tragedy to their lives also brought them together. Although liberated from immediate threats to their lives, they still faced the threat of separation if the real nature of their relationship were to be revealed.
The Tempest-Tossed was thoroughly researched. Only the characters are fictional. Among my sources are the UNRRA Archives at the United Nations as well as an interview with a woman who lived in a German displaced persons camp as a child. I also interviewed a woman in Manchester, England, who remembers playing among the rubble from the war-time bombings, searching with her playmates for spent shells and bullets. I also reached out to the lesbian theater community in Germany. A woman in Cologne assisted me with incidental German dialogue in my play and checked other facts for me.
Along with a penchant for historical accuracy, I try to tell a basic love story-of love that began in wartime and will survive long after. Because of the scarcity of plays by and about lesbians being produced, I assume the responsibility of giving my characters a happy, or at least a hopeful, ending.
The title of the play comes from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, the poem that is on the Statue of Liberty.