Alumnus James Howard Carr recently returned to NMU to watch the world premiere of his play, Where a Certain Future. The historical drama depicts a fictional Jewish family’s response to the actual events of Nov. 9, 1938. “Kristallnacht,” often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass,” signified a wave of anti-Semitic violence instigated by the Nazis after a German diplomat was shot by a Jewish teenager and later died. Carr sat down for an interview near the end of the NMU run and explained his motivation for writing a play that revolves around this pivotal event.
“Most documentaries I had seen over the years glossed over the Night of Broken Glass and only mentioned it in passing,” said Carr, who graduated in 1972 with an English major and speech drama minor. “They didn’t get into detail on how [Hitler’s propaganda minister] Goebbels used the shooting to get people riled up and ignite the violence. I thought it needed more exposure.
“A librarian in Troy and I had discussed what might have been the first book on the event that provided the information I needed to develop it into a story. I wrote it originally as a long one-act designed as an educational tool and then expanded it into a full-length play. That was 25 years ago. Seeing it come to life on stage is what I had been striving for all that time. I’m glad it happened at the university I graduated from.”
Unlike most productions, Where a Certain Future takes place in real time. Over the course of about 90 minutes, the Abramson family grasps the seriousness of the unfolding events and engages in a generational conflict over whether or not to flee to the United States.
Carr said the script has undergone many rewrites. He was even taking notes during the final performance to fine-tune it further and tighten the running time. The most dramatic content changes resulted from his phone and email exchanges with New York-based guest director Michael Blatt in advance of rehearsals. He said Blatt has a personal connection to the event depicted because he is Jewish and family members were victims of the Holocaust.
“Michael also was trained at the Actor’s Studio,” Carr said. “He was able to teach the actors things that enabled them to stretch themselves and deliver the characters. It seemed all had their eyes opened through this experience. They all did a fantastic job and should be proud of themselves for the work they did. I just wish more students had turned out to see the production.”
Carr also auditions for occasional acting jobs in the metro Detroit area, where he resides. He did not want to be photographed for this story because his look typifies the bad guys or unusual characters he tends to play. Car played a “Unabomber type” in a music video for Insane Clown Posse. He also played Admiral James Bradford in the Star Trek: Osiris series on Vimeo and a Belgian immigrant farm owner in Mary’s Buttons, a movie based on the 1910 murder of a Macomb County sheriff. His last stage role was Agador, the gay Guatemalan house boy in The Birdcage.
Where a Certain Future is Carr’s first play. He describes his other writings as an eclectic mix that ranges from comedy and crime thrillers to two children’s books available on Amazon: The Beverly Hills Monster and Will My Daddy Ever Work Again?