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The play “Games” presently at the Soho Playhouse at 15 Vandam St, in NYC, is an effort put forth by playwright Henry Naylor to remind the viewer of a long forgotten era and the dangers of labels. It is about the games people play both manipulatively and athletically.

Naylor reached back in history to find his real life champions. Athletes who sought to take part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. An Olympic game sullied by Hitler and his Nazi regime. Among those unwanted heroes at the 1936 Olympics was the famed Jessie Owens. Yet, forgotten in time, were two Jewish women named Helene Mayer (Lindsay Ryan), a fencing champion, and Gretel Bergmann (performed by Renita Lewis) who excelled in the high jump. Helene had earned fame in Germany as an Olympic champion prior to the Nazi occupation when Germans were simply Germans who took pride in their nationalism as one people. Gretel was an unknown yet had accomplished feats that qualified her to enter the Olympics.  However, Hitler saw fit to keep her out by declaring the 1936 Olympic Games “Jew free.” Gretel saw the omitting of Jews as unfair and sought to fight it but soon learned the national opinion of Jews under the leadership of Hitler had turned ugly and in time would get even worse.

Quite interesting was the fact that actress Renita Lewis who played the white German high jumper Gretel, was a woman of color. What better way to augment the plays view point than via simply showing the ability and humanness of the actress rather than ascribe a color to her character.

I suppose the main emphasis the play, directed by Darren Lee Cole, is trying to express, is that via categorizing and labeling individuals their individuality and humanness becomes diminished. When a person is no longer allowed to simply be human, but is forced into a category...whether it's by color, ethnicity, religion, or class – those forcing those labels on them become their oppressors. In forcing their will on others the oppressor themselves become enslaved because they must constantly exercise the oppression. This leads to their fear that one day the oppressed will seek retribution. So, the games begin. It isn't long before the oppressor attempts to rationalize their oppression by declaring those they oppress as sub human or inferior. Fallacies of course, but now the oppressor is trapped by their own actions. They turn to denial to absolve themselves of the indefensible.

Helene did not see herself as Jewish and was adamant she represented no one other than herself. Merely an athlete whose ambition was to win. Throughout the play, Gretel acts as Helene's conscience attempting to educate Helene of the importance of taking a stance. Imploring her to be a proud representative of the Jewish people so the Germans were made aware the Jewish people like any other have ambitions, hopes and dreams.  

It was difficult to pinpoint Helene's thought processes when she gave the Nazi salute upon winning the silver medal. Did she salute out of fear? Was Helene Mayer coerced into recognizing the Nazis when she took her medal? One will never know since nothing much was written by or about Mayer that stated her mindset. Disappointed Gretel Bergmann eventually came to America and never returned to her native land of Germany. 

I admit the play reminded me of how easy it is to turn one against the other.  When suddenly the national identity becomes us against them.  All it takes is a mad man in power and a coterie of evil men doing his bidding.





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