Where is your dad? Play about teenagers with a parent in prison

Where is your dad? Play about teenagers with a parent in prison
September 1, 2016 x

Berliner Zeitung, 17.6.2016

The apple never falls far from the tree. As this proverb says, children take after their parents. That’s good, when the parents are extremely talented, have strong characters or great beauty. But what if they don’t? When Walter visits his grandmother, she welcomes him with the words: “You are becoming like your father.” In response, Walter smashes some jars with grandma’s homemade jam.

To take after his dad, it’s quite a controversial matter, because his dad is in prison. The play “Secrets” deals with families of people in jail – with their wives, but, first and foremost, with their children. Approximately 100 000 children in Germany have incarcerated fathers. Or incarcerated mothers; although this relatively seldom happens. Only five per cent of people in prison are female. “Co-convicted” was the working title of the play – and it really describes such girls and boys. The scene with Walter and his grandmother illustrates their dilemma: how does one behave with a figure of identification who is a convicted criminal?

School children, who have gathered in the Studio space of the family center FEZ are not quiet. Even when the light goes out, they are still whispering and laughing. In the next moment Walter starts to speak and gets everyone’s attention. The teenager has just changed his school – for the second time already. „Where is your dad? “, his new classmates ask him. „Ran off with another woman“, says Walter. David Knopp plays his role convincingly angry and at the same time tormented. Walter’s mother instructed him to answer in this way. However – as it always happened before: in every new place, in every new school – at some point everyone knows the truth. Will they have to escape again and hide in another place? Moving boxes, which make the simple scenery of the play, symbolize their defense strategy, which is basically an avoidance strategy and which always fails. The truth follows them like a young dog, Walter’s mother says (Christine Roller).

The text from director Monika Dobrowlanska is distilled through documented material as well as two books of young adult fiction on the same topic: “Just call me Super” by Reinhold Ziegler and “Mom in jail” by Maja Gerber-Hess. The second main character of the play is Elfi, whose mother killed her boss. Elfi’s case shows how the world reacts to such situations. She is not allowed to spend her vacations with her best friend any more – the parents of that girl won’t allow it. Elfi has suddenly become a bad influence in their eyes. She is ashamed. Mirja Henning portrays her Elfi as a person in silent despair. “Secrets” is a realistic, social theater, which is directed at teenagers from the age of 13, but it also let adults learn about the urgent needs of the co-convicted children.