Theater Group Struggles to Find Art During Holocaust in Ghetto
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The last date listed for Ghetto was Saturday May 30, 2009 / 8:00pm.
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With its exploration of the relationship between art and atrocity, playwright Joshua Sobol’s Holocaust-related drama, “Ghetto,” will conclude the 2008-09 Mainstage season at the Theater and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University.
Sobol wrote “Ghetto” in 1984 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. The play has been translated into more than 20 languages and performed worldwide by leading theater companies in more than 25 countries. The production is directed by Cantor, assistant professor of theater in Northwestern University’s School of Communication, and a local and national stage, television and film actor.
“This provocative play continues to have significance today because it explores how human beings respond in the direst of circumstances,” said Cantor. “It’s also about remembering the Holocaust and honoring the survivors and victims, because if we don’t understand history, we are doomed to repeat it.”
Based on the diary of librarian Herman Kruk, a refugee from Warsaw, Poland, who sought asylum in Vilna, a Lithuanian city renowned for its cultural traditions, “Ghetto” depicts how a thriving culture that is being destroyed retains a heartbeat. Prior to the Holocaust, Vilna was home to 80,000 Jews. During the Holocaust, Vilna’s Jewish population was reduced to 17,000.
Most of the action in Sobol’s play takes place in a bombed-out theatre in Vilna. Combining fact and fantasy to tell the tale of a theater group formed during the Holocaust, the story is filtered through the memory of Srulik, a ventriloquist and the theater director at the time, whose bravery only finds a voice in his puppet.
“The style of the piece is very theatrical and bucks the protocol on how we tell Holocaust stories,” said Cantor, whose grandfather was an immigrant from Lithuania and whose extended family died during the Holocaust. “Since violence and some sexuality is depicted on stage, it may be disquieting to some people. However, the production also features high-energy music, singing, dancing and vaudeville routines.”
Three students in the M.F.A. Design Program at Northwestern also are members of the production’s creative team. Set designs by Robert Shoquist transform the stage of Northwestern’s Barber Theater into a distressed “ghetto” theater. To create the illusion that the theater survived bombings, the stage’s curtains will be tattered and the floor patched with tombstones.
With costume design by Melissa Torchia, members of the all-student cast will be dressed in garments that represent the confiscated clothing, footwear and fine jewelry that once belonged to the Jews that the Nazis murdered.
Lighting designer Amanda Sweger will use angles of light to frame sections of stage space to create provocative shadows and slants for scenes of reminiscences, as well as concentric circles of light during reality scenes. Colorful lighting will brighten the stage during the “plays within the play” presented by the Ghetto theatrical group.
Jeff Award-winner Joshua Stephen Kartes will serve as the musical director, composer and arranger for the production. Six of the actors are trained musicians who will play a variety of instruments in the theater’s wings as well as on stage.
Dramaturgical research for the production was provided by Keith Byron Kirk, a student in Northwestern’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama program. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center also served as a resource to the production of “Ghetto,” providing cultural and historical information.
“Ghetto” is a two-act play that is recommended for teen-aged and adult audiences.