The following note appears in the playbill for The End of War, onstage at the November Theatre through March 26th, 2017.
When I set out to write the novel, The End of War, the source material for this play, I had in mind a Greek tragedy. The book was designed to mimic classic theatrical structure: three Olympian gods (in this case, Churchill, Stalin and FDR) who decide the fates of men; then three chosen mortals (in the novel, one American combat photographer, a female cellist in Berlin, and a crazed Soviet soldier) live out the Olympians’ intents on the earth. I took pains to make the book authentic, using much historical fact; these include several topics you’ll see in the play, such as the actual plot to save the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from the last days of the war, the real threat to Berlin’s women by the advancing Red Army, and the tragic choice made by many of the city’s women to take cyanide tablets – made available by the Nazi Youth – rather than face the coming wrath of the Russians.
When the time arrived to adapt my novel for the theatre, I jettisoned much of the book’s structure – the Olympians, the iconic politicians, several fictional characters – and concentrated on the story’s core, the terrible history of the fall of Berlin. I centered the piece on a few viewpoints: two women struggling to persist in the final cataclysm of the German capitol, a lone Jew hiding his sacrifices and loss, two Red soldiers driven to the brink of madness by the horrors they’ve done and witnessed, and Berlin itself, “torn down to its skeleton.” The play focuses on the fears and hatreds of both sides, on insanity balanced by courage, and the desire to survive tempered by selflessness. The violence and cost of that war was, in every measure, unimaginable by modern standards, yet they became commonplace. This stands as a warning for modernity.
I have tried to put for you a museum on the stage, a timepiece of peril, endurance and immense grace from a war long behind us, told by characters who should seem as frightening and challenging as they are contemporary. I ask you to measure what you see, inquire of yourself what you might have done in these circumstances. Ask what you would do today, and if you are honest, our play has done its work.
David L. Robbins is a playwright and author born in Richmond, Virginia. Both his parents, Sam and Carol, were veterans of WWII. Robbins began writing fiction in 1997 and has since published fourteen novels, has made repeated visits to the NY Times bestsellers list, and has had several of his works optioned for film. His latest novel is The Low Bird, based on a true story set during the Vietnam War about the rescue of a pilot behind enemy lines in Laos. The End of War is his third stage play. David currently teaches at VCU’s Honors College. He is the founder of James River Writers, a non-profit that helps aspiring writers work and learn together as a writing community; co-founder of the non-profit Podium Foundation, which supports the practice and teaching of writing for Richmond city youth; and he is the creator of The Mighty Pen Project, giving Virginia veterans and their families training to turn their memories of military service into written, archived narratives.