devouring theatre, film, and food
by JJ Accrocco
The Holocaust will probably always hold a sort of morbid, yet necessary curiosity for our world. While the historical rise and fall of the Third Reich is mostly gruesome, the artwork born out of it serves as a gravestone for those who lost lives and loved ones.
Remy Bumppo concludes its season with the Midwest premiere of Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s award winning play “Our Class.” This nearly three hour work tells the macabre true story of a rural Polish town that burned 1,600 Jewish citizens in a barn. The tragedy of Jedwabne, Poland was mostly kept a secret until the early 2000s when a book titled Neighbors exposed the truth as well as the key perpetrators.
In nearly all Holocaust-related works, Nazis are portrayed as the villain and what fascinates here is that Slobodzianek holds the Polish villagers responsible for the deaths of these particular Jews. Perhaps without the helpful timeline of events included in the playbill, one might infer that Nazis had put the Jedwabne people up to this. The play digs deeper into the personal relationships between characters established long before the Nazis moved in.
What could be seen as a somewhat isolated misfortune is artfully elevated to a full-scope story as the characters are developed from school-aged children all the way to their deaths. A talented cast featuring Linda Gillum, Rebecca Sohn, Rachel Shapiro and Matthew Fahey round out Nick Sandys’ production. A diversely aged cast points out not only capability but also relatability.
“Our Class” is a truly unique play, incorporating original music sung like a dirge by the cast during moments of intensity. The script does an interesting, almost metaphysical thing in which it has characters narrating action as they perform. The result is that of oral history, which for a long time was the only way this story had been told. The power of monologue is strong here and each cast member shines in moments of complicated dichotomy. Eventually the chronology of the play tends to exhaust its audience but the quick pace of the first and most of the second act begs viewers whether violence is inherent or just a contact high from political instability.
Remy Bumppo’s “Our Class” runs through May 11th at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre. Tickets available at http://www.remybumppo.org/