One of life's many unanswerable questions is this: What would you have done? What would you have done if you had been alive in France during the Nazi occupation of World War II? Would you have joined the resistance, risked your life and the lives of your family? Would you have collaborated with the occupiers -- helping to impose Nazi ideals on fellow citizens and comforting the Germans in bed?
Until Marty McFly and Doc Brown work out the kinks in their DeLorean time traveler, we will likely never know the answer. But some elements of this vexing question are addressed in Shorn, a play written and performed by Juliette Regnier. In this one-person Dobama workshop production, Regnier manages to shed light on some of the French women who were trapped in this wartime conundrum. But it would be more satisfying if the play expanded its scope a bit and took a few more chances with this volatile material.
With many husbands and partners scattered across both France and the rest of Europe, it fell to French women to maintain their households and families in the face of brutal rationing. Of course, some no doubt believed they would be under Hitler's thumb for the rest of their lives, so they adapted to the situation at hand. In many cases, this meant sharing nooky with the Nazis in exchange for brie and a baguette, some emotional tenderness, small favors, real love, or any combination thereof.
When France was liberated in 1944 after four years of occupation, there was a huge amount of pent-up Gallic rage. And a good portion of it was focused on the women who bedded down with German soldiers. Local folks became vigilantes -- dragging these women into the streets, shaving their heads, and parading them through town to the jeers and taunts of their neighbors and former friends.
Regnier is adept at sketching three different women: one with a case of syphilis, who misses her German soldier and is pregnant; another who reveals a vile undercurrent of anti-Semitism; and a prostitute who defiantly excuses her behavior by shrugging, "I am in the business of pleasure and comfort." Taking the stage with a shaved head that looks troublingly trendy (thanks, Britney), Regnier exerts a powerful hold on the audience for an hour as she dons various wigs and personas.
Interweaving this trio of stories with mimed bits by Claire, a clown who always seems to get it up the arse, playwright Regnier puts a human face on people who are almost too easy to despise for their perceived weaknesses. But it all seems too pat, since there is no representation of the citizens who did not cooperate with the Germans. Their rage against the "horizontal collaborators" is understandable, not simply misplaced or ignorant -- and it deserves a place in this discussion.
Still, Shorn serves up a pungent reminder of how close we all are to being collaborators -- even passive ones -- with a malevolent government and its crusade of conquest.