“What inspired me to write Lilac was that I’ve always wanted to use the medium of theatre to shed light on a certain event in the history of LGBT+ people. I was greatly inspired by the playwrights Carolyn Gage and Larry Kramer. I’m drawn to war stories, (especially people who were greatly affected by the Nazi Party), and I chose the persecution of LGBT+ people during the party’s occupation of Berlin.” -Andy Ladenburg
Lilac is a play influenced by the stories of those who were persecuted for their sexuality during the Nazi occupation of Germany, and throughout history in general. It expresses themes of love, but it is not a romance – it is a story that depicts the subconscious search for identity and community.
It’s easy to access information about the Nazi era, whether in a History course at school or simply on Google. You will discover things mostly about Jewish Europeans, who were persecuted on the largest scale. Alongside them, it’s vital to remember all the other minorities the Nazis subjected to the vilest treatment – including g*psy, disabled, mixed-race and homosexual people. Furthermore, reductionist statistics, as informative as they are, fail to expose the personal ramifications of such totalitarian torture as what the Nazi regime inflicted. Art is the filler of this grave; the mud we throw at history in our emotional attempts to dignify it. Lilac is a whole handful of this.
Andy Ladenburg’s two-part play puts the wilting Lila on a pedestal. The drama with amazing imagery directs dark and soft lights onto her situation, playing with your perception of whether or not she will wither away. Through various well-developed relationships, Lila is presented as a more complex woman than her era ever endeavoured to acknowledge was possible. The confines and borders of family structures and sexuality do not allow Lila to travel as far as her soulmate needs her to, and her Gestapo husband’s leash on her neck ensures she does not. He eventually chokes her. Lilac is a play that grips you so softly that you do not feel its squeeze until the end.
Lilac is a riveting story of a love triangle between Isaac, Lila and Madeline. Lila completely captivates the reader with her soft embrace. She is a nurturer of sorts, while Madeline is a little more feisty and go-get-it-ish. Isaac is literally a pain in the ass, swaying his authority all over the place, especially when in the company of women.
The backdrop of the story emotes a somber mood, which is portrayed in the color choices used throughout the play. For example, the play opens with a dark blue lighting, representing the stiff and somber mood of Lila and Isaac’s relationship in the beginning and the tragedy that follows at the end of the play.
In the thick of the World War II, Isaac, an officer of the Gestapo drinks himself into oblivion, as his wife, Lila falls deeper and deeper in love with his sister, Madeline. Crazy, I know. Lila later has twin girls, at Isaac’s undying request, which puts an even bigger strain on her and Isaac’s relationship because he does not spend time with her or the children.
The plot thickens as Lila’s nephew, Henry, enters the story. He is a young man searching for truth and love, represented by his interest in the underground party – a local spot in the city where young, homosexual creatives hang out. His demise is tragic, yet evitable as we learn of the thick tension festering over the outcasts of Berlin. There’s great juxtaposition throughout the play between rules and freedom, homosexuals and heterosexuals, women and men and Jews from Germans.
There were many powerful themes in this play but my favorites centered around the idea of repression of creativity and sexuality. I believe these two notions are tied to one another — as a person learns of their sexuality they ultimately begin to learn about life. Shifts in life’s experience are almost always ignited by bouts of passion or eros, therefore we learn a bit more about eros as we seek out relationships and partners. It’s almost as if we are looking for that next phase in life; that next awakening. Lila and Henry were the centerpieces of this struggle; the ultimate challenge of accepting the status quo or pushing oneself into an authentic space of truth.
Andy Ladenburg is a sixteen year old writer from the New Jersey suburbs. “Lilac” is their first play.
Cover photograph is by Man Ray, (Lee Miller and Friend, 1930).