Peter Krummeck - Bonhoeffer Play

Peter Krummeck - Bonhoeffer Play

The performances I gave of my one-man play Bonhoeffer in Canada and the United States were sometimes followed by Q&A sessions. I liked these on one level and dreaded them on another.
I dreaded them because I’m an actor and a playwright – I am not a Bonhoeffer academic with every aspect of this all-but sainted man’s philosophy at my fingertips. I cannot quote him chapter and verse. But I liked them because they provided an opportunity to explain why I’d undertaken the project. I had, after all, written the play from a personal perspective that verged on autobiography.

I first encountered Bonhoeffer as a poet whose direct approach appealed to me. I began to explore the man’s history and learned how we had faced a similar quandary as young men: should we abandon a country governed by an ideology we found morally hateful and indefensible – or should we remain to do the little for good possible within a framework of increasing legal and violent oppression?

Then I discovered that he, too, confronted complacent Christianity: that he rejected ‘cheap grace’ as I (in 1968) had rejected the evangelical ‘quick-fix’. His writing has helped me endorse my own frequently stated belief that no-one owns the sole franchise on God.

Similarly, I knew that there are times when it is ‘necessary to be guilty’. I was never part of a plot to assassinate the head of government and I thank God I was spared the intense spiritual and moral agony that drove Dietrich to his decision. Yet I have deliberately broken the law to defend human rights.

I have never been arrested. I have never gone to prison. But I do know the shattering effect of police invasion of my home. I know that my mail has been opened ‘in error’ in the past and that my telephone has been tapped at the instigation of the State. I do know the sour scent of my own fear.

This harassment saw me through to my next point of identification with Bonhoeffer. I can only believe I got away with it because Archbishop Desmond was my patron.
Like Dietrich – or any other sincere educator – I know that the future lies with the youth. I devised a workshop programme that brought as many young people as possible, from every faith and language, to a common experience through drama.
Most significantly: Dietrich’s life proves that not all Germans were Nazis. Not all white South Africans are racist.

I was proud when Christopher Weare secured a research grant from the University of Cape Town for the development of the play I had written. I was immensely gratified when St Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington DC asked if I would consider giving the World Premiere there – as part of the week commemorating the first anniversary of 9/11.

I was utterly unprepared for the international acclaim and box-office success which followed. I did not think people would queue round the block in driving rain at 11pm.
I did not anticipate playing over 500 performances or being invited back to open the Baltimore season or take part in the UNO Festival in Victoria. The idea that it would be filmed for Canadian television was as remote as the moon.

And so the real point I have in common with Dietrich is this: I am an ordinary man. Dietrich and I approached our tasks from a point of personal and driven necessity. He did not set out to become the acknowledged martyr to truth that his statue above the west entrance to Westminster Abbey now proclaims. Nor did I set out to become famous. I am obviously grateful it happened, but I did not write or perform my play with any manifest hope that it would be internationally acclaimed.

I owe an immense debt to John de Gruchy, who recognised an essence of ‘Dietrich’ in me I had not seen myself. Yet, in playing him and finding the man within his truth, I admit that I frequently become confused as to who is which?

Because Dietrich lives within me still. I hope to prove by example, as Dietrich did, that we are all ordinary men and women – and that it is the ordinary men and women who can and must shift materialist society to a new moral ground.