Wow. I mean…wow!
For those of you reading this that really want to see how low humanity can go, feel free to immerse yourself in the emotionally powerful, yet chillingly unsettling play, Our Class.
Originally written for the stage by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, and translated by Ryan Craig, the show premiered at Hillcrest Center Theater, in St. Paul, on Oct. 29, and will run through Nov. 20. The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company was kind enough to provide my wife and me two complimentary tickets to the bold, bleak play, based on true events.
The story, which takes place over the course of 78 years, revolves around 10 “young” Jewish and Catholic classmates, friends (played, unflinchingly by a very brave, multigenerational group of 10 actors, who, as my wife noticed, were clearly cast by the ages of which their real-life counterparts perished), who end up turning upon one another, as Poland is invaded by the Soviets and, later, the Nazis.
From there, the audience bares witness to a whole slew of unavoidably, yet inevitably, unpleasant happenings: rape, genocide, (implied) infanticide, and, well, just a lot of unhappy people living dismal, cheerless lives.
So, in other words—ACHEM!—it ain’t Wicked.
This isn’t the kind of play you go home and tell your friends to see for a weekend of rollicking fun.
This is, well, Serious Shit.
The first act, especially, is tough to watch, as we watch one of the Jewish female characters, Dora (played with angelic grace by Elena Gianetti) getting violated by multiple men; all of whom she grew up with and trusted, while her baby lays in the other room, unattended. In a later scene, Dora and baby are burned alive, along with, approximately, 1600 men, women, and children, in a barn.
Meanwhile, other characters, such as Abram (George Muellner) are brought up to speed via mail, as they live in peace and harmony, on American soil, while sitting helplessly on the sidelines. Muellner shoulders a large amount of the emotional heavy lifting, imbuing his character with a tragic, quiet dignity, as he learns from abroad that his whole family has been exterminated in the barn massacre, which was committed by his friends, Heniek (Walter Weaver as—wow! Here’s a shocker—a menacing, pedophilic priest. I swear, the more things change…), Rysiek (Caleb Carlson, in an electric, creepily charismatic performance) and Zygmunt (in a scary performance that reminded me of a much more sadistic version of Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—that is, if the infamous animated character were a sociopathic, unapologetic murderer and rapist).
To tell you how towering the latter two performances were, after the show ended, and the actors came to visit the audience in the social hall, I avoided them like the plague. Yes, I know—they were actors playing fictional characters but damn, their characterizations really got under my skin, giving me the heebie-jeebies just having them in my general orbit.
Filling out the rest of the cast/classmates were David McMenomy, as the doomed Jakub Katz, Gabriele Angieri, as Menachem, Dora’s vengeful husband, Robert Larson as the woeful, alcoholic, Wladec (splendid!), Candace Barret Birk, as Wladec’s Jewish wife, forced to convert to Catholicism for her own safety, and, in a performance that could only be described as being full of piss and vinegar, Maggie Bearman Pistner, as Zocha, Menachem’s second wife, a Catholic who is chided for protecting Jews, even after she emigrates to the good ol’ U.S of A. These are all knock-out performances, full of emotional truths and thunderous power.
It’s a testament to Director Miriam Monasch that she was able to corral such perfect performances out of each and every one of her stunning cast members.
Kudos, also, should be given to Dan Wold for his spare yet believable scenic design. Lisa Conley, the show’s costume designer, managed to give each character their own respective personality in her costume choices.
And, in the It’s-A-Small-World-After-All! Category, my former theatre professor—who sat directly next to my wife and I…weird!—also acquitted himself quite admirably with his ominous soundscapes.
Lastly, Jennifer DeGolier did a great job with the lighting, using it to great effect by spotlighting the characters, as they are interrogated or writing to one another.
As previously mentioned, some of the stuff on stage is pretty tough to watch. However, that shouldn’t deter you from heading out to see it. While it may be unsuitable for the young ones—truth be known, and at the risk of coming across as prudish, I was a little put off by the liberal use of the “F-Bomb,” as well as some truly crude, sexual language—this is definitely one history lesson that you should see.
The scariest part? It’s all true.
And the way our world continues to spin, and with the continuing conflict in the Middle East, it’s clear that those who haven’t learned from similar stories of the past, are already well on their way to repeating them.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received a free pair of tickets to “Our Class” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a glowing review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…
diaTribe: Unsettling Play Bolstered By Towering Performances, Terrific Direction
Wow. I mean…wow!