A “witness” to the history of anti-Semitism


In “Witness,” created with over two dozen actors and presented by his own Arlekin Players Theater, the subject is again anti-Semitism, the atmosphere is freezing and the impact is profound.

This time, the scope of Golyak’s investigation extends from the persistence of anti-Semitism to the history of Jewish migration, to the ways in which this migration was a response to persecution and hostility, or often worse. experienced by immigrants.

This was the case in the shameful episode at the center of “Witness”: when more than 900 Jewish passengers aboard the transatlantic liner called the St. Louis, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, were refused entry to the States. United as well as Canada and Cuba. Forced to return to Europe, nearly a third of these passengers subsequently died in the Holocaust.

Conceived and directed by Golyak, with a screenplay by Nana Grinstein and additional screenplays by Golyak and Blair Cadden, “Witness” is based on over 90 interviews conducted by members of the Arlekin-resident society or taken from the archives of the United States. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Thus, “Témoin” falls within the broad category of documentary theater.

But structurally, “Witness” bears little resemblance to the rudimentary production values ​​found in textual pieces such as “The Laramie Project”. Golyak brings his abundant visual imagination to the story of St. Louis, the implications of this story, and what it feels like to be pulled out of time and be a part of this story.

With its mix of live performances, film, audio and green screen technology, “Witness” takes place in a liminal space that is part story, part nightmare, part hallucination, part ” Twilight Zone ”. Golyak enjoys taking audiences to meta-territory, and he has a knack for generating a menacing vibe in a way that throws you off balance but rarely feels gratuitous. As aimless as a scene may appear at first, no matter how mundane or obvious a dialogue may seem, Golyak’s larger goals do eventually emerge.

The play is divided into three acts with a totally different style. In the first, an emcee (Gene Ravvin) presides over a grim talent show aboard the St. Louis, whose participants recount and stage their experiences of discrimination, assault, and the horrors of the 1938 Nazi pogroms against the Jewish population of Germany known as Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass. “My childhood suddenly ended,” says one woman, recalling how the Nazis destroyed her toys, knocked over her family’s piano, and tore their furniture to pieces.

In the second act, the screen turns off and “Witness” switches to audio-only mode. We listen to individual passengers learn if they will be accepted as refugees under a strict digital quota or if they will be sent back to a dark fate in Europe. We hear expressions of sympathy (“Let’s not send them Americans back to this slaughterhouse,” says a young girl) and anti-immigrant sentiments (a Cuban presenter warns of “the immediate displacement of our workers”).

In the third act of the play, an increasingly panicked Ravvin finds himself trapped on the St. Louis, unable to disembark as he wanders the halls of the ship. Passenger cabin doors open to reveal images and conversations that evoke the Jewish experience of discrimination and persecution.

Meanwhile, seated at a small table in the hallway, Rachel, a rabbi (Anne Gottlieb), Leah (Lauren Elias) and Joseph (Nathan Malin) engage in a heated conversation about the forms anti-Semitism takes today. hui, including in Boston. It is a conversation to which “Witness” himself makes a valuable contribution.


Presented by the Arlekin Players Theater Virtual Theater Lab (zero-G). Designed and produced by Igor Golyak. Screenplay by Nana Grinstein. Additional scripts by Blair Cadden and Golyak. Produced by Sara Stackhouse. Tickets $ 25 at zerogrativity.art or 617-942-0022. Hosted on zerogravity.art until January 23.

Don Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @GlobeAucoin.


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