Chicago Theatre Review
After the Holocaust
A Splintered Soul – Chicago Commercial Collective
In the years that followed the end of WWII and the rescue of so many Jewish men, women and children held prisoner in concentration camps all over Europe, this drama tells an unusual story of some of the survivors. Set in San Francisco in 1947, Rabbi Simon Kroeller (played by respected Chicago veteran actor, Craig Spidle), is a man who’s seen his own wife and children killed in Krakow and has survived. A former Polish resistance fighter, now living in America, Rabbi Kroeller looks after his flock of young, Jewish refugees, welcoming them with open arms and ready to try solving all their problems. He’s also tormented by his own past and haunted by the memory of Sarah, his deceased wife.
Koeller’s flock includes the fiery, politically intolerant Sol (played with fierce passion and arrogance by talented actor, Matt Mueller), Gerta (the lovely, radiant and strong-willed Eliza Stoughton) and Mordechi (exciting, talented young Chicago actor, Nik Kourtis). Into their surrogate family come recent immigrant brother and sister, Elisa and Harold (both played with valor and conviction by Jessica Kingsdale and Curtis Edward Jackson), who confide that their sponsor in America has been physically, emotionally and even sexually tormenting and abusing them, and that they now fear for their lives. Problems like this haunt Koeller and he often consults his wife’s portrait for sagely advice.
In his free time, the good Rabbi enjoys a spirited game of chess, some heated philosophical discussions and a stiff beverage or two with his American lawyer friend, Judge Martin Levinsky (portrayed by the excellent Dev Kennedy). Advice and sometimes unwanted wisdom is often doled out by the Judge, which frequently causes disagreement between these two friends. Interspersed with heated scenes of conflict among the Rabbi’s Jewish support group participants, we witness how Gerta’s relationship with her employers, Leo and Sadie (also played by Mueller and the brilliant Johanna McKenzie Miller), has become complicated by loneliness and a lack of communication. The result is a forbidden, budding romance. We also learn from the Countess (also portrayed by Ms. Miller) and the Judge that a serious crime has been committed that may (or may not) involve some of the Rabbi’s flock. This crime also has serious personal implications for Rabbi Kroeller, as well.
The drama unspools at a gentle pace, never really ramping up very much until almost near the end. It’s then that a dramatic bomb is dropped that takes the audience completely by surprise. It almost feels sneaky, as if we’ve been duped by playwright Alan Lester Brooks. There are very little clues to this revelation and, thus, it seems dishonest.
That said, this production, directed with sensitivity and a firm hand by Keira Fromm, is respectful, beautifully-acted and professionally polished. It offers up a different kind of Holocaust story, a tale about a select group of Jewish survivors who immigrated abroad and were sponsored by American families. While most educated people know about WWII, the Nazi Party and how so many innocent lives were tragically lost in the death camps, many forget that the survivors were the people who suffered from this horrific event. This story is a fictional account of a small population of those who lived to tell the tale. It’s a thought-provoking and entertaining drama that’s worth experiencing and sharing.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 20-May 29 by the Chicago Commercial Collective at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 773-327-5252 or by going to www.stage773.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com