Fort Myers Florida Weekly

‘The 48th Parallel’



This is your chance to understand almost everything about what makes us Americans and humans, and what made them Germans and humans. It’s one night only, Monday, Feb. 24, at the Laboratory Theater of Florida in downtown Fort Myers, starting at 7 p.m.

And for only $5 a seat. Can you beat that with a stick?

Laboratory Theater, the dynamic Woodford Avenue venue created by Annette Trossbach, will present a staged reading of Robert Hilliard’s dazzling tour d’philosophic force, “The 48th Parallel,” a play set in Germany a month after World War II ended, on May 8, 1945.

I know it’s a Monday, but think of the alternative: You or your children could enroll at Harvard or Yale, or at the University of Florida or Florida State and spend the next four years coming to the same understanding, with a good liberal arts education. But that will cost you somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000, depending on your institution.



This way, you won’t have to refinance your home, and you can be in bed by 9:30 p.m.

The action amounts to a verbal shoot-out between a U.S. Army lieutenant ordered to locate Nazis, and an elegant, educated, considerate, even gentle man of middle age, who may or may not be a criminal and a genocidal murderer.

The playwright will actually be in the audiencea himself, God willing and the creek don’td rise, as they used to say.

Let pt me introduce him briefly by first pointing out that the opportunity to spend time in the company of such individuals, as youy can on Feb. 24 — especially those who remain mentally and intellectually undiminished by time — grows increasingly rare.

Born and raised in New York City — the son of a Russian immigrant shopkeeper and a French immigrant mother — Robert Hilliard found himself hunkering in a farm field in front of the American lines at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. He was just 19 years old.

As a U.S. Army private and a forward observer, he carried a rifle and a radio, which made him a primary target of Germans who could see him from about 200 yards away.

They fired on him with mortars. He dove into an old trench — perhaps (he has since surmised) the ironic and lifesaving scar of another world war that ended only 25 years earlier, near the beginning of what turned out to be an extraordinarily bloody century.

Unlike 19,000 other young Americans who did not, he emerged from that battle (Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, the bloodiest fought by Americans in World War II), with a purple heart, not a white cross or star in a green field in France. Fortunately, for all of us.

Dr. Hilliard is now a professor emeritus from Emerson College in Boston, a Sanibel resident, and the author of about 30 books and plays, including “Waves of Rancor,” “Hollywood Speaks Out,” “Surviving the Americans” (a memoir), and a powerful epic novel set primarily before and during World War II in Germany: “Phillipa.”

He is also a fierce pacifist (to use a precise oxymoron). But left with Nazis and no choice, he would go into battle again, he has told me.

In fact, he does so in this powerful play without ever a shot being fired: a battle for the heart and soul of enlightened humanism, of tolerance and peace and the kind of love that doesn’t come with sugar-coated marketing puffery, but with a determined interest in the well-being of others, regardless of race, creed or color.

That seems a distinctly American quality, doesn’t it? Or it should be, at least.

From “The 48th Parallel” you can learn the answer to this question, one I’ve been asking myself for 50 years: Are we different than the Nazis? Would or could we have done what they did?

I could tell you what the answer is, of course, because I’ve read the play. But you’d have to pay me and that wouldn’t be right.

Instead, I can tell you what the urbane and intellectually fearless Ms. Trossbach, says: “His play is gorgeous. It’s like a chess game, and in fact the two main characters do play chess. In reading it, I felt, ‘I’m not sure what direction this will go.’ The mark of a good playwright is testing the early, formulated opinions of an audience — it’s making the audience have to reassess.”

She pauses only for an instant.

“Edward Albee does that. Bob Hilliard does that.”

>> What: “The 48th Parallel”
>> When: 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24
>> Where: Laboratory Theater,
1634 Woodford Ave., Fort Myers.
>> Cost: $5
>> More info: 218-0481 or

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