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Professor’s play revisits 1936 ‘Nazi Olympics’

Play­wright Sam Bern­stein could not shake what he had learned by reading about the so-​​called “Nazi Olympics,” which took place in Berlin in 1936.

The North­eastern Eng­lish pro­fessor thought about Avery Brundage, the Amer­ican offi­cial and future head of the U.S. Olympic Com­mittee who worked with a global coali­tion of leaders to hold the games in Berlin despite the Nazi oppres­sion of Jews and other “less than whole­some” people at that time.

He thought about Jesse Owens, the African Amer­ican track and field star whose four gold medals thwarted the aspi­ra­tions of Adolf Hitler, who wanted the Games to show­case German nation­alism and the strength of the Aryan race.

But more than any­thing, Bern­stein could not stop thinking about two of Owens’ team­mates — Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller — “two Jewish boys” who, he said, qual­i­fied for the U.S. Olympic track team but were not allowed to par­tic­i­pate in the Games.

At the sug­ges­tion of his wife and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with former stu­dent Mar­guerite Krupp, Bern­stein began researching and writing. Two years later, Krupp and Bern­stein com­pleted “Olympics Über Alles,” a sprawling play that spans his­tory and crosses con­ti­nents.

The play — which was first pro­duced in 2005 as a four-​​and-​​a-​​half-​​hour staged reading spon­sored by Boston Uni­ver­sity — is set both at the 1936 Games and in a modern time, when a male Jewish pro­fessor and a female Catholic museum curator are exam­ining the Berlin Olympics in con­sid­er­a­tion of a pro­posed museum exhibit per­taining to those games.

“At first, these two people are at odds about many mat­ters,” Bern­stein said. “But as they come to under­stand each other’s back­ground, their capacity to appre­ciate each other and their values comes into play.”

After the 2005 staged reading, the play sat dor­mant. Then, director Eric P. Vitale, who had staged a pre­vious work by Bern­stein, agreed to stage a full pro­duc­tion of the play, which will open later this month at MIT’s Kresge Little The­atre.

Bern­stein revised the play, cut­ting about two hours from the orig­inal run­ning time. He has worked closely with its actors, who each play sev­eral char­ac­ters during the per­for­mance, which addresses sports, reli­gion, rela­tion­ships and the seeds of World War II.

“I hope the play, with its cen­tral his­tor­ical, human­istic and romantic dis­cus­sions, is broadly appealing,” Bern­stein said.

“Olympics Über Alles” will be per­formed at 8 p.m. on Feb. 10, 11, 17 and 18, and at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12 and 19. Tickets are $20 and can be pur­chased in advance at tickets​.neu​.edu.

– by Matt Collette

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