Saturday, January 27, 2024

"Survivors" at Six Points Theater

Just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Six Points Theater is presenting the play Survivors, which tells the stories of ten Holocaust survivors. 79 years ago today the concentration camp Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army. In the course of human history, or even American history, that's not that long ago, and unfortunately it did not mark the end of violence, discrimination, and hate against the Jewish people. It's so important to keep telling these stories, to remember the horrors that Jews endured not so very long or far away, because as they say in the play, "Never Forget! Never Again! Never is Now!" Survivors only has three performances; it's more of a special event than a part of Six Points' full season. But if you have a chance to see the final performance on Sunday afternoon, I encourage you to do so. Each performance is followed by a discussion about anti-Semitism with local leaders and scholars. Anti-Semitism never went away, but has seen a resurgence in recent years with the extreme political climate, as well as in recent months since the Israel-Hamas War. I'm so glad I was able to attend this moving performance and informative discussion, which was heavy and a bit depressing, but also hopeful and inspiring. (Click here for info and to purchase tickets to the final performance.)

In just about an hour, six actors put a very human face on the horrors of the Holocaust. The numbers and statistics can be mind-numbing, but hearing the real stories of young people who survived unimaginable trauma, and lived to tell their story, is much more emotionally resonant. On a completely bare stage, with just a chalkboard and a few suitcases, the cast takes us right back there to 1930s and '40s Germany, or Poland, or Czechoslovakia. Their similar but uniquely specific stories are interwoven together. Stories of being forced to move into a ghetto with not enough food; of being separated from family members, never to see them again; of having to leave their homeland; of marching across the barren country for miles upon miles; of hiding wherever and however they could; of being subjected to abuse and forced labor; and ultimately, of survival. These ten people (you can read their stories here) were among the lucky ones, and each one vowed to tell the story so that the world wouldn't forget - and 79 years later, their stories still live on through this play. 

the cast of Survivors
The play was written as an educational tool for schools, but the audience when I attended was primarily adults, and I found it incredibly moving. Director Warren C. Bowles gets wonderful performances from the cast (Anya Naylor, Kevin Brown Jr., Sulia Altenberg, David Michaeli, Tic Treitler, and Michael Quadrozzi), who beautifully embody not just these ten people, but multiple other people they encounter in their lives. Many stories are happening at once, but the direction and performances make it easy to follow. With such a short run I thought it might be more like a staged reading, but it's fully performed, using the space well. The design is sparse but effective - the suitcases are used as chairs or other props, important dates or places are written on the chalkboard for emphasis, and characters are dressed in period appropriate clothing, with even a few accessory changes for different characters (costume design by Eleanor Schanilec, props design by Rick Polenek).

The play was written for a modern audience, and draws intentional parallels to today's world. Things like othering, fearmongering, scapegoating, book burning, censorship, and blind devotion to a leader, depicted in this historical play, feel very current, very real, and very scary. Thanks to Six Points Theater for bringing us this play at this time, and the thoughtful programming around it.

Survivors has one more performance on Sunday at 1pm. If you can't see the play, Six Points has an online guide with some great info about the Holocaust and other genocides. Six Points' regular season continues with a world premiere new play The Gentle Jewess of Venice (a sequel of sorts to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice) and Harvey Feirstein's Torch Song.