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April 12, 1991 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-04-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

HOLOCAUST

A SACRED ENERGY

Memory is the sacred energy which recalls — and heals
the wounds of the Holocaust.

SUZANNE BURR

Special to The Jewish News

t's important in
reflecting on the Hol-
ocaust that we create
places to talk to each
other."
With these words, Elizabeth
Kraut, coordinator of last
month's University of
Michigan's 12th annual Con-
ference on the Holocaust,
sums up the diverse array of
film, theater, and discussion
offered in Ann Arbor.
Ms. Kraut's words have
special meaning for two
highlights of this year's con-
ference: the Talk To Us
theater troupe's presentation
of "No Survivors," an interac-
tive drama about life in an
age of mass destruction, and
the Memorial of Names, a
24-hour public reading of
names of some of those who
perished during the
Holocaust.
Both events dramatically il-
lustrate the power of the
human voice — to speak the
unspeakable, and to resurrect
through remembrance.
It is the second night of this
week-long conference. About
50 people sit in Hillel's
auditorium, flanked by a
poster exhibit entitled "The
Courage to Remember."
Scenes of prewar persecution
of the Jews and graphic con-
centration camp images line
the walls.
The first scene of this
night's show by the Talk To
Us theater troupe finds us "in
the mountains of Turkish
Kurdistan, near the foothills
of Mount Ararat." In an
apocalyptic landscape, two
battle-weary soldiers — one
Israeli, one Iraqi — confront
their final moments of life.
They share their despair
(remembering the corpses
he's seen, Dan, the Israeli
soldier, cries out: "Why do the
children always look so
alive!") and grope for
understanding (the Iraqi
soldier, Hussan, wonders:
"Maybe this destructiveness
is another form of idolatry").
The second scene brings us
closer to home. A young U-M
student is helping her friend

36

FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 1991

Mike prepare for their class
on the Holocaust. Rachel,
who is Jewish, becomes in-
creasingly upset as Mike's
questions about Zyklon B gas
and Einsatzgruppen touch on
open wounds.
This scene explores the
complex, contradictory feel-
ings of young people who
perhaps were not expecting a
college course to provide a
descent into hell.
The scenes are followed by
five monologues based on the
testimony of Holocaust sur-
vivors. Alternately brutally
honest and hauntingly
beautiful, the monologues ful-
ly engage the audience
despite the absence of
scenery, props, or special
lighting.
Since the company was
founded in the fall of 1987 by
artistic director Scott
Weissman, Talk To Us has
never flinched from difficult
subjects. They have per-
formed in residence halls
throughout the U-M campus
and have traveled to

TheTalk to Us Group was
part of Holocaust Week in
Ann Arbor.

Washington University in St.
Louis and Allegheny College
in Pennsylvania with shows
on sexism, racism, homo-
phobia, and AIDS.
But somehow this show is
special. -
"This is just about the most
intense show we've done,"
says Binna Burchell, a U-M
junior who plays the
character of Rachel. "It's very
unnerving, because you
wonder how people could be
so heartless. How could the
Nazis look at a little girl and
see evil?"
Fellow troupe member
David Siegal, who plays Dan,
the Israeli soldier, also
grappled with the overwhelm-
ing scope of the tragedy.

"What I struggled with the
most," he says, "is how
unbelievable the Holocaust is.
As an actor, there's a tenden-
cy to want to make it huge,
mythic, like 'Waiting for
Godot! But you still have to
deal with it on a level that's
real for the characters!'
Kathryn Clark, who earned
her Ph.D. in kinesiology at
U-M and now works on a
postdoctoral fellowship in the
Kresge labs, has performed a
monologue in this show for
two years. Speaking the
words of survivors has made
her confront their personal
anguish.
"During the rehearsal
break, I had to go off by
myself and cry," she admits.
"It's much more upsetting to
me to do the show this year.
More than just understan-
ding it, I'm beginning to feel
it. It's not academic any
more."
Playwright Hank Green-
span, whose interviews with
survivors form the basis for
the monologue, praises the

company for their courage. A
psychologist and teacher in
U-M's residential college,
Greenspan works closely with
cast members as mentor and
friend as well as writer.
"I'm incredibly impressed
by these folks!" he says, "and
by the vulnerability they've
allowed themselves to have.
They've really opened them-
selves up to the topic. And
been overwhelmed at times —
as people are"
"You just can't do a scene or
a monologue and not be in-
tensely moved by it," agrees
director Lisa Dixon.
Because emotional reac-
tions to this material can be
strong, Ms. Dixon and co-
director Mr. Weissman have
provided more rehearsal time
for this show, as well as time
for just talking and sharing
feelings.
"Talking with people in the
group and getting their view-
points really helps, because
everyone has a different
perspective," says Ginna
Burchell.
Discussions are also
bolstered by research, such as
the troupe's visit to the
Holocaust Memorial Center
in West Bloomfield.
For actress Wilandrea Blair,
whose monologue questions
the meaning of the Holocaust,
the trip to the Center deep-
ened her connection to her
character.
"I heard a survivor speak
for the first time in my life.
His voice was so gentle and
caring. He said what we must
do is teach our children that
differences don't matter. Just
be kind to each other."
To round out the actors'
learning experience there is
the audience itself. TTU
shows are interactive, pro-
viding time. for questions
from the audience (answered
by the actors still in
character).
"The audience learns from
the troupe members, and the
troupe members learn from
the audience!" says Lisa Dix-
on. "That way, when some-
thing hits home, it's not
a facade — it's a genuine feel-
ing that is shared."
Or as she tells the audience,

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