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THEATRE

Women, Theatre, and the Holocaust: Resource Handbook

Silence Not, A Love Story
A free reading of the play written by Cynthia L. Cooper and based on the true story of survivors Gisa Peiper and Paul Konopka.

Three highly recommended Holocaust-related plays in New York City (short reviews by Rochelle Saidel)

All Through the Night by Shirley Lauro

Irene's Vow (a brilliant play that honors a Holocaust heroine)
Review by Rochelle G. Saidel, 2009

Who Will Carry the Word?
Red Fern Theatre Company, Center Stage, New York City. Remember the Women Institute is honored that Red Fern co-founders Emilie E. Miller and Melanie Moyer Williams chose the Institute as their partner for their rare and fascinating performance.

The Accomplices (a new play about the United States and the Holocaust rescue
Review by Rochelle G. Saidel, 2007


Silence NotSilence Not, A Love Story
Monday, September 9, 2013
4 pm
Primary Stages
307 West 38th Strete
Suite 1510
New York City

For further information: plays@cyncooperwriter.net

A free reading of the play by Cynthia L. Cooper based on the true story of survivors Gisa Peiper and Paul Konopka. Silence Not, A Love Story, takes place amidst economic chaos in the early 1930s, when the Nazis amass power in Germany with brutal intimidation. A young Jewish woman and labor-activist man in Hamburg dare to speak out, despite the danger.


Three highly recommended Holocaust-related plays in New York City (short reviews by Rochelle Saidel)

Between May 18 and June 3, 2013, I saw three unusual and worthwhile Holocaust-related plays in New York City. Two of them are finishing their runs in June, but I wanted to call attention to them in case they are presented elsewhere later. They are: 3 Kinds of Exile (in previews, opening June 11, 2013, Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street; Mark Nadler's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Musik From the Weimar and Beyond (York Theatre at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 619 Lexington Avenu); and The Last Cyclist (West End Theater at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, West 86th Street and West End Avenue, until June 9).

3 Kinds of Exile3 Kinds of Exile
John Guare's new play is based on the lives of three noted European emigre artists, two from Poland and one from Czechoslovakia, each told in a different theatrical style. The Czech, Karel Reisz, subject of the first vignette, "Karel," was sent on a Kindertransport to England. All of the the emigres have a personal connection to Guare, and film director Reisz staged Guare's play Gardenia for the Manhattan Theatre Club. His story, the first of three scenes that dramatize individual stories, is about a teenager who survived the Holocaust and managed to become famous in a new language. The second, "Elzbieta Erased," is about renowned Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska, who was not so lucky. She left Poland for the United States when she married American New York Times journalist David Halberstam, and then lost her standing as a famous and beloved thespian in Poland. Guare introduced her to William Styron, who supposedly considered for the role that Meryl Streep portrayed in Sophie's Choice, but Czyzewska never really mastered English. This vignette is performed by Guare himself with Omar Sangare, who played young Paul in the Polish production of Six Degrees of Separation. Famous Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz is the subject of the third segment, "Funiage." Here nine actors present, in magic realism style, a condensed biography of his life. He arrived for a cultural tour of Argentina on September 1, 1939, jumped ship, continued writing in Polish in Argentina, and never returned to Poland. (Some accounts of his life state that his mother was Jewish, while others say that he had Jewish aunts.) The stories obviously have in common the difficulties of being an emigre and working in a foreign cultural environment. This is an unusual piece of theater, well worth seeing. See more reviews and a conversation about the play.

I'm a Stranger Here MyselfMark Nadler's I’m a Stranger Here Myself
In I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Musik From the Weimar and Beyond. Mark Nadler combines cabaret with a thoughtful expose of Nazi totalitarianism. While it may sound strange to stage these two seeming opposites, it works for Nadler's run at the York Theater Company. As becomes clear at the end of this performance that begins with his portrayal of the music (especially Kurt Weill) and culture linked to the Weimar era in Germany, this one-man show is a very personal journey. The production includes Nadler singing and at the piano, accompanied by a violin and accordion. In addition, there are projections of vintage photographs, film clips, and documents. They show life during the Weimar Republic, especially for Jews and gay people, and then change to Holocaust images. Mr. Nadler's singing voice could be better, but his showmanship more than makes up for it. And the show’s final moments are a superb culmination of the entire production. What had seemed to be an often comic cabaret review turns out to be a profoundly personal Holocaust story. Highly recommended. See more reviews in The New York Times and TimeOut New York.

The Last CyclistThe Last Cyclist
This highly recommended play within a play depicts a dress rehearsal of the play at Terezin, based on the old German Jewish joke that everything was the fault of the Jews and the cyclists. Why the cyclists? Why the Jews? The site was a small theater upstairs in a landmark church, a stiflingly hot and humid New York evening and no air conditioning, I might say no air. Add to this that the ancient seats were not the most comfortable, to say the least. While I am in no way comparing these conditions to those for the rehearsal audience at Terezin, they did help one's imagination. I found the play extremely moving and the actors all did an excellent job. It seems from reading the background that the original written play was lost. This version was reconstructed by Naomi Steinlight Patz, for presentation on the modern stage. The original was written by young Czech playwright Karel Svenk, murdered at Auschwitz. The play was never actually performed at Terezin because the camp's Jewish elders deemed it too subversive and thus too dangerous. According to an article that Patz wrote for a Barnard magazine, actor-survivor Jana Sedova presented a version in 1965 that changed the second act for ideological reasons. (Patz wrote that Sedova may be the only actor in the play who survived.) Patz's version restores what she believes is close to the original. Unfortunately this is a two-week run ending on June 9. It should run longer, and in other venues. See more reviews are in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine


All Through the Night

All Through the Night By Shirley Lauro
Directed by Melanie Moyer Williams
Featuring Theo Allyn*, Hana Kalinski, Michelle Lookadoo*, Lesley McBurney*,  and Andrea Sooch*

All Through the Night speaks directly with a warning for today. Inspired by interviews with German Gentile women, and set during and after the Third Reich, the play is both stylistic and surrealistic, sweeping through the women's teen years and young adulthood during the Holocaust and then beyond. The Nazi Regime impacts the women's lives as they struggle over education, work, religion, marriage and motherhood. Making overwhelmingly hard choices, they survive or succumb to Hitler's Reign and are changed forever.

All Through the Night's New York Premiere runs October 2-25, 2009 at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater ( 5 West 64th Street @ Central Park West).  Tickets may be purchased at www.redferntheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101.

 

Show Schedule:
Friday, October 2 @ 8pm (Preview)
Saturday, October  3 @ 8pm (Preview)
Sunday, October  4 @ 3pm (Preview)
Monday, October 5 @ 8pm (Opening)

Wednesday, October 7 @ 8pm
Thursday, October  8 @ 8pm
Friday, October  9 @ 8pm
Saturday, October 10 @ 8pm
Sunday, October  11 @ 3pm
Wednesday, October 14 @ 8pm
Thursday, October  15 @ 8pm
Friday, October  16 @ 8pm
Saturday, October 17 @ 8pm
Sunday, October  18 @ 3pm
Wednesday, October 21 @ 8pm
Thursday, October  22 @ 8pm
Friday, October  23 @ 8pm
Saturday, October 24 @ 8pm
Sunday, October  25 @ 3pm (Closing)

Critical Praise from the Chicago Premiere for All Through the Night
:
2006 Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Citation Nominee: “Best New Play of the Year”
"A significant serious and intensely moving new work......a compelling new play."
-Chris Jones, Senior Theatre Critic, Chicago Tribune
"Stirring...engrossing moments” -Dan Zeff,  Copley News Service
“Such a relevance to what is happening now... fascinating... the emotional side of war...”
- TimeOut Chicago
 “We may know history but this play is electrifying.”  - Louis Weissberg, Chicago Free Press


Promo photo for Irena's VowIrene's Vow (a brilliant play that honors a Holocaust heroine)
Reviewed by Rochelle G. Saidel

Irena's Vow
Starring Tovah Feldshuh
Walter Kerr Theater, Broadway and 48th Street, New York
http://irenasvow.com/
Opens March 29, 2009


Irena's Vow, which had a successful off-Broadway run, has come to the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway. The play stars Tovah Feldshuh, is written by Dan Gordon, and directed by Michael Parva.

Tovah Feldshuh's performance is brilliant as Irena Gut Opdyke, who hid twelve Jews in the basement of a German officer's home in Poland during World War II. Based on a true story, this 95 minute one-act production moved many in the theater to tears. Feldshuh did not play Irena as a saint. Instead we saw a headstrong young woman who believed in behaving in is morally correct way, but also enjoyed a good cat and mouse game.

The play began with Irena as an older woman talking to American high school students in 1988, and then went back to Nazi-occupied Poland. We learned that Irena had already been gang-raped by soldiers at age seventeen on the Soviet side of divided Poland, and then managed to come back to Kozience on the German side to look (unsuccessfully) for her family. As a still teenaged nursing student, she was enlisted by the Nazis to work in a factory.  Nazi Major Rugemer took her from there to be in charge of his laundry, and then his personal housekeeper, in a Tarnapol villa.  In the major's laundry Irena encountered eleven Jews working as slave laborers. She ultimately hid them plus one more--right under the nose of Rugemer. She was even able to help one couple give birth to a baby in the major's basement. In the play, we see only three actors--playing Ida and Lazar Hollar and Fanka Silberman--representing the twelve hidden Jews.

When the major discovers Irena's ruse, he agrees to go along only if she submits to him sexually. While most victims of rape and sexual abuse during World War II have not been comfortable talking about their experiences, Irena's story includes her victimization by both the Russians and the Germans. Although not intended as such, this part of her story can almost be seen as the rape of Poland by its neighbors on both borders.

At the end of the play, the Hollar baby who had been born in the basement, now a man with a son of his own, comes to meet Irena and invite her to his son's bar mitzvah in Jerusalem in 1988. Irena died in May 2003.

The supporting cast and technical staff were all excellent and moved the story forward with skill. Thomas Ryan played Major Rugemer with a believable and broad range of emotions.

After the play, Irena's daughter Janina Smith spoke with the audience and answered questions. She explained that after decades of silence, her mother revealed her story, triggered by a phone call from a neo-Nazi doing a survey to “prove” the Holocaust had never happened. Smith also told an extraordinary story about how her mother finally was able to reunite with her four sisters in Poland.

The play includes verbal and background images that do not shy away from the brutal genocidal intentions of the Nazis. This is one story of a brave Polish Catholic woman who stood up to the Nazis at the peril of her own life, and saved Jewish lives. Her bravery has been recognized in Israel by Yad Vashem, where she has been named a Righteous Among the Nations, and her story is also told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Her book, In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer provides more details about her underground activities.

Two Irenas, Two Holocaust Heroines
When I first saw the title Irena's Vow, I admit that I was confused. I knew the story of Irena Sendler, a Catholic Polish heroine who rescued Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. I therefore thought that the play was about Sendler, rather than Irena Gut Opdyke. While I was clearly wrong, it is not inappropriate to also highlight here the achievements of Sendler, whose name has been better known.

Irena Sendler, who died in May 2008, five years after Irena Gut Opdyke, was also honored at Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.  She was born Irena Krzyzanowska in Otwock, Poland in 1910. She created a network of rescuers who smuggled about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto, some of them hidden in coffins. She was head of the children’s bureau of Zegota, an underground organization set up to save Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.  Her group of about 30 volunteers, mostly women, brought Jewish infants, young children, and teenagers to safety.
See details at http://www.rememberwomen.org/Library/Essays/main.html#sendler. For more information, see http://www.irenasendler.org/


Ad for The AccomplicesThe Accomplices (a new play about the United States and Holocaust rescue)
Review by Rochelle G. Saidel

The Accomplices
The New Group (Theatre Row, The Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., New York)
April 9-May 5, 2007

The Accomplices, which opened April 9, 2007 and closed on May 5, should have a longer run. In this world premiere, The New Group (Theatre Row, The Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., New York) does an outstanding job of sharing with their audiences a chapter of United States history that is little known today.

Based on actual events, New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub's new play tells the story of a small group's effort to involve the organized Jewish community and the United States government in the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. The play stars Daniel Sauli as Hillel Kook, also known as Peter Bergson. The staging, lighting, and performances are excellent. Zoe Lister-Jones skillfully portrays Betty, the woman who loves Kook and ultimately becomes his wife. Veteran David Margulies is superb as Rabbi Stephen Wise, a powerful establishment Jewish leader described in the play as the “Jewish Pope” in the United States. Jon DeVries plays both President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who is depicted doing as little as possible to help the Jews of Europe) and playwright Ben Hecht, a supporter of Bergson's efforts. This dual role, portraying two powerful men with opposing agendas, could be disorienting to the audience. Instead it somehow works to make them think about the contrast in these two historical figures' views.

As a historian of the Holocaust, rather than a drama critic, I found that the protagonists were perhaps a bit too black and white. Rabbi Wise certainly had his shortcomings, but surely can also be lauded for great accomplishments vis-a-vis the American Jewish community. And Hillel Kook, who the leaders of the American Jewish community and the United States government tried to paint as a fringe upstart, certainly had his merit as a voice in the wilderness trying to save the Jews of Europe. But the play seems to paint Wise as mainly the bad guy and Kook as the hero. Perhaps this is the stuff of good theatre, and this is indeed excellent theatre, but the situation in reality was often more blurred.

I am particularly pleased that new generations can learn a bit of history from this play about Cordell Hull, Breckenridge Long, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and others who played roles in this life and death drama and the Roosevelt administration's policies. However, after the play I needed to come home and reread David Wyman's Abandonment of the Jews and Arthur Morse's While Six Million Died, two classics on this subject. Other scholarly works include Rafael Medoff's The Deafening Silence and a biography of Kook by Louis Rapoport, Shake Heaven and Earth: Peter Bergson and the Struggle to Rescue the Jewish of Europe. I hope that this fine political drama serves as a springboard for some serious post-theatre reading by other intrigued audience members, or even by those who have not had an opportunity to see the play. See www.thenewgroup.org for more information.

Rochelle G. Saidel


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