“Address Unknown”

Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
May 9, 2019 1:00 a.m.

Frank O’Donnell and Ron Kurtz

Ron Kurtz and Frank O’Donnell led us through a thought-provoking exercise last Saturday at Story & Song. They did a staged reading of “Address Unknown”, a novella published in 1938 that has been done as a movie and a play. The reading consists of an exchange of letters between former business partners, Max (Ron) and Martin (Frank). Max lives in San Francisco and Martin has re-located from America to Germany and the time is 1933. The letters track the transition of the two men from close friends to near enemies.

Since we know the year is 1933, we are prepared for Martin to describe the situation in Germany and the rise of Adolph Hitler. Max listens with increasing anguish as Martin comes more and more under the spell of the man of action who is going to bring Germany great glory. Max asks about the increasing violence toward Jews that he is hearing about from friends. Martin says the unrest is necessary to move the country forward and things are not as bad as the news reports.

Now we’re on the downhill slide that eventually brings Martin to a moral crisis where he is left with the choice of betraying a friend or saving his family. Max is devastated but does not drop the conversation. Instead he finds an ingenious way to seek revenge for a betrayal that is effective because of the atmosphere in Germany.

Two aspects of the reading stand out. One was the extent to which Martin is affected by his surroundings and the environment in Germany. The despair that the economic situation has generated and the loss of pride among the people prove fertile ground for nationalistic rhetoric. We don’t feel that Martin was an evil man so it is all the more startling that he succumbs to that rhetoric.

The other aspect was a certain sense of irony. Martin has loudly proclaimed that Hitler is the man of action and yet it is he who shies away from acting. Max, who has seemed the passive one, acts. He is deliberate in his plan to create a noose that will capture Martin.

Hats off to Ron and Frank as their skill made the reading a good one. Each actor both reads a letter as though writing it and also reacts the other actor’s reading. It would be an easy reading to overplay. But Frank and Ron manage to read and react without histrionics and that made it all the more effective.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.