Sunday, April 7, 2013

Our Class (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Our Class enjoyed its West Coast premiere last night.  This work, by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, translated by Ryan Craig, focuses on an event little known in the United States. In Poland, however, it hovers over living memory as the murder of JFK does here. The Jedwabne Pogrom happened in July 1941, the murder of hundreds of Jews in a small Polish town. Since this occurred following the conquest of Poland by Nazi Germany, one can understand the initial belief that SS units performed the deed.

Alas, no. They egged on the local Poles, who committed the slaughter. When it finally came to light, the Polish people went into shock and reacted as we Americans often do to the dark deeds of our own history--the lynchings, the murder of Civil Rights workers, the burning of churches with children inside, the white juries that refused to convict those responsible. They (and we) felt horror, guilt, denial, resentment, fascination. All the colors of our common emotional rainbow.

Our Class deals with ten people--five Jewish, five Catholic. We meet them as schoolchildren and in many ways they remain such. "Classmate" they call each other for decades to follow. Technically one of many amazing things about this production is how this cast conveys the range of ages--from childhood to old
age--without makeup.

Yet in many ways that remains their least impressive achievement.

This play delves into its ten characters not from a moralist's POV. Which doesn't mean the playwright had no moral view himself. Quite obviously he shares our own horror at cruelty and murder. But the Christians we meet don't look like cardboard cutout villains, no more than the Jews as pristine heroes. All feel pain, all make terrible mistakes, none comply to some uniform moral gradient. Dora (Sharyn Gabriel) has a shocking but terribly human reaction when her dear friend Rysiek (Gavin Peretti) commits a terrible act. Wladek (Alexander Wells) helps start the massacre, but then comes to his senses and helps save the Jewish girl he always liked Rachelka (Sarah Rosenberg). One would like to think this meant a happy life together, an unbreakable bond. Well, the bond remained. Not as good a thing as one might wish, but neither as bad as it might have been. "Life," as a favorite author of mine likes to say "resists simplicity." Our Class abounds with that very nuance which brings it to life. Even the most vile of the characters (probably Zygmunt played by Dan Via) seems pitiful in some way. Even the most innocent (maybe Abram as played by Michael Nehring) seems self-righteous or sometimes unpleasant. No two of them agree on how to see events, nor how best to respond.

Much of that lies in the script. Did some research and found some critics at its London premiere called this play a one-sided morality play. But honestly, there can be no doubt about the ethics of events! I can only Son of Semele Ensemble production (Semele's son was Dionysus, patron of Greek theatre).
assume that--perhaps--the cast of that production failed to match the performances in this

Tis one thing to realize that such nuances exist. Even monsters are human. Victims are very rarely saints. Surviving a horror, even helping make it less horrible, does not automatically equal happiness or wisdom. Evil and good deeds have complex consequences, and even more complex causes. The cast here had to do more than realize these, but bring them to life. They did so with such heart and skill I did what I very rarely do--stand when applauding at the end. As a tribute to what they'd achieved, not least with the finale. Shan't tell you what that entails, but although without any doubt an ending, it also left everything very very open. Responsibility for events and for what to with them in the future were given to those who can (and must) use them most.


Performances of Our Class are a little irregular but here is a schedule of them:
 Sunday, April 7 @ 3:00 PM
 Friday, April 12 @ 8:00 PM
 Saturday, April 13 @ 8:00 PM
Sunday, April 14 @ 3:00 PM
Monday, April 15 @ 7:00 PM
Friday, April 19 @ 8:00 PM

Saturday, April 20 @ 8:00 PM
Sunday, April 21 @ 3:00 PM
Each performance takes place at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039


Gordon Black said...

Questions remain concerning responsibility for the massacre. Can unarmed villagers, "egged on" by the Germans, maneuver hundreds of victims to their violent doom without suffering a single loss themselves? This needs demonstration. Further, the forensic investigation was "prematurely terminated," in the words of Prof. Jan T. Gross, speaking as honoree at his Colin Miller Memorial Lecture at UC Berkeley: "And had it not been prematurely terminated, then we would really know." Hence, we do not really know. I hope that the production, which may well deserve its laud, will help reopen the forensic investigation.

James Lyon said...

You will find the similar phenomenon in Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of Croatia following the wars of the 1990s.