The Human Capacity by Jennifer Barclay
Naked and tortured in a frigid bath, Alonza Ostermann fights for her life and family. It is 1972, and we are immersed in the most perfected surveillance state of all times: Communist East Berlin. Dietrich Richter, a brutally loyal Stasi officer, is in charge of punishing Alonza for the gravest of offences scaling the Berlin Wall in a desperate attempt to reach her sick newborn son.
Alonzas ferocity leaves a mark on Richter that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he continues to follow his orders to splinter the Ostermann family. First, he forces Alonza to divorce her husband, Konrad. He then places Konrad in ten years of solitary confinement, and informs the couple that their son died as an orphan in West Berlin.
Eighteen years later, the Berlin Wall falls and a country dissolves. Overnight, Richter finds himself jobless and openly hated. Leota Botho, a young Berliner, helps to open a library where citizens can finally read their once secret Stasi file. Richter, posing as a fellow righteous citizen, volunteers at the library so that he can limit the exposure of Stasi secrets.
Alonza also arrives at the library, seeking clues about her lost husband and son. Amidst the stacks of exposed lies and disturbing revelations, Alonza and Richter once again find themselves face to face. Upon seeing the sole victim who has consistently hounded his conscience, Richter devotes himself to mending the Ostermann family, hoping to find his redemption through Alonza's forgiveness. Not recognizing Richter, and in desperate need of his assistance, Alonza allows herself to gradually open up to him. As the play builds to its climax, Alonza is continually shaken by flashbacks as Richter walks a fine line between truth and fabrication. Both torturer and victim find themselves caught in a struggle to reconcile the horrors of their past with their hopes for the future.
The Human Capacity is a searing look into a society and a family in turmoil, and an exploration of the human capacity for cruelty, perseverance, and forgiveness.
The Human Capacity was given a staged reading at Steppenwolf Theatre Company as part of their First Look Festival of New Works. The reading was directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Bob Breuler. Over the past year, The Human Capacity has received other Chicago area readings at Piven Theatre (2005 Annual Festival of New Works), A Red Orchid, Northlight Theatre, and Breadline Theatre Group. Most recently, Stage Left Theatre of Chicago produced a workshop production as part of Leap Fest, directed by Artistic Director Kevin Heckman.