Monday, October 7, 2013

SVSU's "And Then They Came for Me" painful but well done theater

Amanda Moths, Cassidy Morey at lower left; Eva Schloss at upper right

review by janet i. martineau

It is sobering to realize that, 75 years after the beginning of the Holocaust,  we are still trying to find a way to cope with the aftermath of Nazi Germany. When 6 millions Jews were gassed, shot and starved to death along with 4 million homosexuals, gypsies and handicapped.

75 years.

And we are still writing and performing plays about it -- such as “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank,” playing this week at Saginaw Valley State University before audiences of middle school students as well as adults.

Frankly I am not sure how much more my soul can bear it, but

of course the story must keep being told to new generations -- kids now who were the age Anne Frank was back then.

Playing through Wednesday, this production directed by David Rzeszutek gives rise to the old theater warning to never share a stage with kids or dogs. Because they will steal the show from out under you.

In this case, the six-member cast shares the stage with something even more demanding of audience attention -- huge overhead projections of two real-life Holocaust survivors, both Jews, talking about their link to Anne Frank. One was her first boyfriend and the other a friend whose mother eventually married Anne Frank’s  father after he lost his wife and two daughters in the concentration camps.

These are REAL people, now in their 80s, and we are so compelled into listening to them  that sometimes the actors below portraying them seem like intruders.

A very strange mix from playwright James Still, combining a filmed documentary look with staged acting. Factor in scenic designer Jerry Dennis’  “Night of Broken Glass” stylized set featuring jagged glass shard shapes on which the video projections dance and, well, it is a heart tugger of epic proportions.

If Eva Schloss and  Ed Silverberg are alive for those haunting interviews of how they endured and survived.....that means....that in a more perfect world Anne Frank would also still be with us. And Schloss is particularly compelling in her dialogue.

Jonah Conner as Hitler Youth
That said, the SVSU actors do a fine job of holding their own, in particular Cassidy Morey as Young Eva (she had to deliver a strong performance to match the dynamics of the real Eva)  and Jonah Conner as a Hitler Youth (Conner also plays Eva’s father, a fact we did not realize until we analyzed the program, so deftly he separates the two. In fact, three cast members have double roles played well.)

Amanda Moths also is a heart breaker as Eva’s mother, who tries to keep her restless daughter quiet while in hiding in Amsterdam and later nearly dying in the concentration camps.

In a real chiller, Olexiy Kryvych is double cast as Eva’s brother and Ed’s father. In a talkback after the Monday performance, he told the audience he is from Ukraine and lost ancestors in the real today the story remains.

Rounding out the cast are Zachery Wood as Young Ed and Kristen Carter as Anne Frank and Ed’s mother.

If there is a problem with the show it is that the real Eva is sometimes hard to understand with her accent, that both the real Eva and real Ed projections and voices are not in synch, and that sometimes the actors are overpowered by those projections.

But in the end...the final scene with candles and pieces of clothing and a guitar placed on a solitary chair....this production nails it. As does the box of shoes at the entrance to the theater.

In the program notes, Eva Schloss is quoted as saying, “My posthumous step-sister, Anne Frank, wrote in her Diary, ‘I still believe that deep down human beings are good at heart.’ I cannot help remembering that she wrote this before she experienced Auschwitz and Belsen.”

“And Then They Came for Me” continues at 10am Tuesday, 10am and 7:30pm Wednesday, and 7:30pm Thursday.

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