Chicago Theatre Review
Prejudice Without the Pride
Our Class – Remy Bumppo
History, as they say, often repeats itself. We are meant to learn from the past. For example, the world recoiled in horror once it discovered the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their sympathizers during WWII; it’s unthinkable that similar abominations were and are allowed to occur again in the genocide of Darfur. Artistic Director Nick Sandys concludes his theatre’s 17th season with the Midwestern premier of a lengthy, but unforgettable production that boldly reminds us of the annihilation that occurred in 1941 Poland. It’s a lesson we should never forget.
The only play to win Poland’s Nike Literary Award, Tadeusz Slobodzianek’ s unflinching drama opens on a typical day in the early 1930’s, in a classroom in the small Polish village of Jedwabne. Ten children are learning and playing, flirting and squabbling, just like youngsters everywhere. Soon one of the Jewish classmates, Abram, immigrates to America with his family. But the years tick by for the classmates who remain and those childish squabbles turn into bullying. No doubt mimicking the sentiments spoken by their parents, the five Catholic children torment and degrade their Jewish classmates. The real atrocity occurs, however, when a band of thugs, once childhood friends, beat one of their Jewish classmates to death. This is only the beginning. Insults are hurled and a gruesome gang rape become the prelude to the massacre of 1,600 innocent Jews, beaten, stripped naked and herded into a barn where they’re burned alive. The years that follow trace the lives of the surviving classmates as they deal with the repercussions of their heinous crimes. Although the offense had been attributed to the German Nazis, the truth is finally revealed.
This is a long play and often very difficult to watch. While there’s some humor, it’s the accumulated horror that stays with audiences long after the lights come up. The characters are real people with families and close friends, who love their lives but fear what they see happening all around them. Even the antagonists deserve a modicum of empathy, although audiences will most likely agree that they ultimately get what they deserve.
Every actor of this ten-member cast is terrific. Rebecca Sohn is touching and humorous as Jewish teenager Rachelka, who is forced to convert to Catholicism in order to save her life following the massacre. David Darlow is a sweet, caring Abram carrying on a long-time correspondence with his classmates after he’s moved to America. Lovely Rachel Shapiro moves the audience to tears as Dora, the victim who suffers the most. Aram Monisoff plays the kindly young classmate Jakub who’s born to be a leader, but who becomes the face audiences remember as the first victim of mob violence. Nick Sandys has staged his production within Joe C. Klug’s intimate wooden room that begins as a school but becomes the confining, whitewashed world these characters ultimately inhabit. John Boesche’s projections help expand this environment beyond the walls of the village.
In a play that’s more of a walk through history than an entertainment, audiences will experience first-hand the horror of the Holocaust in a way no textbook can. Truths are exposed, numbers
turn into the names of real people putting faces to both the victims and the perpetrators. Audiences attending this unbelievably moving production will never forget the emotional journey taken in an intimate theatre on Lincoln Avenue.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 2-May 11 by Remy Bumppo at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to www.remybumppo.org
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com