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Columbia, S.C.: from swastikas to Jim Crow.

JON TUTTLE'S PLAY HOLY GHOST MINES a little-known chapter of World War II history, in which German prisoners-of-war were brought to military camps in the continental United States. In South Carolina, far from the front lines, these POWs' captors were sometimes African-American troops, themselves prevented from active duty by reason of race. Unlike the Germans, who were generally treated respectfully, their American guards were forced to live under the manifold humiliations of segregation.

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Tuttle says: "There's a wonderfully rich, awful irony involved. You have a dynamic in which Nazis, or former Nazis, get along quite well and find America an accommodating place."

In Holy Ghost, premiering Aug. 12 at Trustus in South Carolina (where Tuttle is playwright-in-residence), a Serbian prisoner escapes the camp and tries to blend in with the local folk, leading to a series of zany, picaresque adventures. In his research on breakaway POWs, Tuttle found a series of paradoxes: "White men, some of them hardened racists, ran across the American South to freedom, with black guards chasing after them to bring them back."

Holy Ghost also focuses on the POW reeducation program supervised by American information officers and designed to return the German prisoners to Europe as partisans of the American way of life, a strategy that Tuttle feels "was just as jingoistic, as nationalistic, as Nazi information-control programs."

In his play, the prisoners are coached in American culture with the help of the drama Abe Lincoln in Illinois, whose speeches they memorize and perform--often with minimal comprehension. Their comic bafflement is hightened by the high-flown language of the material.

Tuttle says he's seeking to portray a nation filled with internal stratifications: "America is not a melting pot. You divide and divide again and divide once more."

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Title Annotation:FRONT and CENTER; Play Holy Ghost by Jon Tuttle
Author:Renner, Pamela
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:292
Previous Article:July/August: theatre almanac.
Next Article:Entrances & exits.
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