Theater: “Camp Siegfried” @ Second Stage
Camp Siegfried was a summer retreat located in Yaphank, on Long Island, New York, in the 1930s. It was owned by the German American Bund, and its mission was to "raise the future leaders of America—and make sure they were steeped in Nazi ideals." These future Aryan leaders were not only forced to physically build the camp's infrastructure—so as to avoid hiring union labor, when the unions were, the camp's leaders thought, full of Jews—but were also encouraged to have sex with each other in order to breed a new generation of perfect Aryan children.
This is a fascinating story which didn’t really end until 2017, when the village’s exclusionary laws were finally ruled unconstitutional by the New York State Attorney General. Unfortunately, it deserves a better play than Bess Wohl’s limp, underwritten “Camp Siegfried” in previews at Second Stage.
Two teenaged characters, He (Johnny Berchtold) and She (Lily McInerny) meet in the summer of 1938 over a stein of beer and an oompah band. He extends the hand of friendship but she rebuffs him initially. Over time, as they laboriously chug huge planks of wood and boulders up hills to build more cabins, they begin to develop a romance.
The young guy has image problems, however: viewing himself as the “runt of a litter” of big beastly brothers, and thus needing to prove his worth as a man, he wants to rush the relationship. Additionally, he totally buys into the Nazi shtick. “Germany is a lot better off than it used to be,” referring to the Third Reich in 1938. She is not so sure.
To reduce this fascinating footnote in American history to the travails of a teen romance is disappointing and unsatisfying. Especially coming from Wohl, whose 2019 play “Grand Horizons”’was so wonderfully insightful and witty. Sorry to say, “Camp Siegfried” gets a big “nein” from me.