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Ari Roth

Born Guilty, Peter and the Wolf (and Me) playwright

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Jewish Theatre of the South presents in repertory two shows by playwright Ari Roth. Opening Feb. 27, Born Guilty (previously staged by the playhouse in 1997) is Roth's adaptation of journalist Peter Sichrovsky's book about present-day Germans grappling with the legacy of the Holocaust. For the second, newer play Peter and the Wolf (and Me), Roth explores how Sichrovsky shocked his colleagues -- including the playwright ­-- by becoming an apologist for an ultra-conservative Austrian politician.

How is the dramatized Peter Sichrovsky different in the two plays?

Peter and the Wolf (and Me) is very much a deconstruction of Born Guilty. In Born Guilty he's a looking for a righteous gentile who's willing to be accountable for what happened during the war. But as it turns out, the real Peter Sichrovsky didn't have these motivations -- I bestowed them on him. I created a protagonist who would seem to be the second coming of George Clooney -- he's an attractive go-getter who's comfortable with liberal college students. At the beginning of Peter and the Wolf (and Me) you realize that, no, he's more like Ron Silver. He was always a conservative journalist.

Who is "The Wolf"?

His name is Joerg Haider, and he's much like some of the far-right wing demagogic figures in U.S. politics. He was one of Austria's most telegenic, athletic political figures, and adopted Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" for Austrian politics, but he stumbled badly much in the same way that Newt Gingrich did. He said things like the death camps were really just "punishment camps," and Peter would be the lead apologist for these statements.

Has it changed since its 2002 debut?

Radically, radically, and [Jewish Theatre of the South artistic director] Mira Hirsch was very involved. When we did the play in 2002, Peter Sichrovsky was still a member of the Freedom Party in the European Parliament. He came to the premiere of the play and within six weeks, he resigned. A lot happened in that six weeks -- Haider went to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussein, for instance -- and I wouldn't say that the play was the deciding factor, but Sichrovsky made a break from the party. So only after that did the play really find its moral, in showing the full circle of a guy who had to have his comeuppance for making these accommodations to power.

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