OpinionArts & Entertainment

Jeremy Piven and an all-too-apt performance

His character never wises up, but he does reach a breaking point where he can no longer pretend to be something he is not.

Jeremy Piven at CBS TV Studios, Aug. 1, 2017. Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.
Jeremy Piven at CBS TV Studios, Aug. 1, 2017. Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.
Karol Markowicz. Credit: Courtesy.
Karol Markowicz
Karol Markowicz is a regular columnist at the New York Post and Fox News, and co-author of the best-selling book, Stolen Youth. She is also the host of “The Karol Markowicz Show,” a podcast on iHeartradio.

There is a point in Jeremy Piven’s new film “The Performance” where I found myself, just for a second, rooting for the Nazis to discover the secret Jew in their midst.

Based on a 2002 Arthur Miller short story and directed by Piven’s sister, Shira Piven, Piven plays Harold May—actually Harold Marcovitz, a floundering tap dancer who is recruited to perform in Berlin in 1936.

His troop includes Benny (Adam Garcia), Paul (Isaac Gryn), Sira (Lara Wolf) and Carol (Maimie McCoy). Robert Carlyle, the Scottish actor best known for his role as the violent Begbie in “Trainspotting” and Gaz in “The Full Monty,” is unrecognizable in his role of Fugler, a mild-mannered, friendly Nazi who wishes we didn’t have to have uncomfortable labels like “Jew.”

Carol is trying to raise enough money to get out of an abusive marriage, and Harold has something to prove to himself but also to his parents, who want him to take over their fabric business. So when a generous offer to perform in Berlin for one night only appears, the group grabs it. Benny is the only one of the bunch concerned with what a bad idea it is for Harold, a Jew, and Paul, a gay man, to be setting foot in Berlin. This becomes especially pointed when the performance turns out to be for Adolf Hitler himself.

The problem is that Hitler loves the show a little too much and, drunk on his success, Harold agrees for the troupe to do more high-profile performances. He’s passed as a non-Jew his entire life, what’s a few more days in Nazi Germany? He can be very quiet about who he is, enjoy the success and not have to worry about what is happening to the other Jews across the country.

The film was made before the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and had indeed been in the works for many years, but it’s entirely believable as an allegory for the way Hollywood has responded to those attacks. Harold is not wildly dissimilar from Jewish Hollywood celebrities who have stayed nauseatingly quiet after Oct. 7. They, too, want the success, the money, the accolades. They, too, have worked hard to get where they are, and they don’t want to throw it away to defend an identity that barely registers. They, too, are confident that the Jew-haters don’t mean them, not with their talent and beauty; they must mean some other Jews who had had the wrong opinions or live in the wrong place. Would they shake Hitler’s outstretched hand? It happens off-screen, but we know Harold does after his one-night show. It’s survival at that point, the argument can be made. But when the riches and the acclaim mean that he’ll have to shake it some more, Harold chooses to do just that.

In fact, he is so certain in his ability to overcome his Jewishness that he submits to a medical examination to determine that he is what he pretends to be. That was the moment I rooted for him to face the consequences of his stupidity. There has to be a point where a Jew—no matter how assimilated or set apart from other Jews—faces up to the reality of his situation and realizes that he’s actually not different from the other Jews being slaughtered whether nearby or far away. It takes Harold longer than that to come to his senses. Hollywood Jews haven’t gotten there yet.

Piven’s performance is tortured and well done, and the film is interspersed with old footage from Nazi Germany to chilling effect. The dance scenes are sensational and in the post-movie Q&A at the Miami Film Festival, Piven told the audience that he had spent years learning how to tap dance while hoping funding for the film would materialize, and it shows.

Piven’s character never wises up, exactly, but he does reach a breaking point where he can no longer pretend to be something he is not. The Jews around him didn’t get to make his decisions and weren’t given his options. Harold was a lucky one who got to make the worst choices. So many other Jews, just like him, had none at all.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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