“Dark Comedy Brings Hope,” Global Histories: Germany (2021)
“Dark Comedy Brings Hope,” Global Histories: Germany
In August 2005 torrential rains caused rivers from the Bavarian Alps to overflow their banks, causing devastating floods and mudslides in southern Bavaria and in neighboring regions in Austria and Switzerland. While the rest of southern Germany was not as badly affected, rivers in the catchments of the Iller, Lech, Loisach, and Isar Rivers still reached historic levels. Rail lines were closed, entire regions were cut off, and hundreds of homes were inundated.
As part of their response to this crisis, the Latter-day Saints in the Munich Germany Stake in Bavaria organized a theatrical troupe called Gruppe Fridolin and in October 2005 performed the classic dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, “a criminal comedy in three acts.” “Admission is free of charge,” read the program, “but we thank you for your donations to benefit flood victims.”
In a longstanding tradition of German Latter-day Saint theatrical productions, Munich stake members poured time and care into Arsenic and Old Lace. The cast of 13 included Latter-day Saints playing roles in a dark comedy about an eccentric American family cheerfully engaged in serial homicide, led by Abby and Martha Brewster, two elderly aunts with a penchant for poisoning people. Other stake members worked on sets, props, makeup, directing, and publicity.
Beautiful invitations were printed and distributed to members in local wards so they could invite their friends. These proclaimed the place of performance as the theatrical hall of the Church of Jesus Christ in Munich. People called in advance to reserve seats. The play premiered on Thursday, October 20, with subsequent performances on Friday and Saturday. The performance was recorded and made into a DVD.
“The role was a lot of fun,” said Wilma Walther, recalling her star turn as one of the main characters, Abby Brewster. “My grandchildren still love to watch the DVD.” Karlheinz Habermann, who played the role of Pastor Harper, remembered, “Performing brought all of us a lot of joy.”
At the conclusion of the performances, the collected donations were given to a nonprofit organization helping flood victims. In a time of loss, the Saints made contributions of humor, wit, and unity to be a blessing in others’ lives.