Alumnus' play debuts off-Broadway
The 1936 Olympic games introduced Nazi Germany to an international audience in what was supposed to be a showcase of Aryan talent and superiority. Lesser known is the story of Jewish-American runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, who qualified to compete on the U.S. track team but at the last minute were replaced by non-Jews.
Cornell alumnus and Northeastern University professor of English Sam Bernstein '58 chronicles their story in his play "Olympics Über Alles," which debuted off-Broadway Aug. 27. The play recounts the incident through the perspectives of a male Jewish historian and a female Catholic museum curator, who investigate the incident many years later.
Bernstein entered Cornell at age 16, starting as a government major and later switching to French literature. He credits his Cornell experience as a launching point for his literary and drama careers.
"I was invited by my professor to come once a week to read any literature that I wished, and we discussed many, many works of literature. … Beyond that I got very involved in acting and directing," he says, adding,
"Cornell visually, and in terms of classes and experiences, was a very special place to me."
The writer of more than 20 plays, Bernstein found the writing of "Olympics Über Alles" particularly challenging. "To write a full-length play grounded in history requires a tremendous amount of research. … I was very concerned if I could do this well," he says.
Bernstein began thinking about the play when reading about the '36 games. "One of the areas that fascinated me was that the people of great prominence and influence had sacrificed in various ways their sense of right, their inherent dignity and their decency to realize certain political, economic and other aims," said Bernstein. "I related this behavior by these government figures and business leaders to the incident of these two boys."
Fortunately, Bernstein had the help of one of his former students, Marguerite Krupp, in writing the play. "My special strength in our work together is that when I start to think about people in a room together, the dialogue comes flowing out very quickly and richly sometimes," says Bernstein. "Marguerite, on the other hand, is a superb researcher."
The duo worked for two years, meeting twice a week at a local Starbucks to write the play.
Though a historical play, Bernstein emphasized the importance of relationships and empathy in understanding the incident: "The play, while it has to do with Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, has more to do with the relationship between a Jewish historian and a Catholic museum curator. … While they contemplate a possible exhibit for the 1936 Nazi Olympic happening, their relationship relates deeply to the historical occurrence."
"Olympics Über Alles" runs through Sept. 21 at St. Luke's Theatre in New York City.
Scott Goldberg '16 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.