Hiding In The Spotlight: Review

An old Chinese saying has it that "the darkest place in a room is the spot under the lamp."

actors in a tense moment

Photo: Darrell Stone

Christopher Staley as a vile collaborator prepares to crack the whip as Zhanna Ashanskay played by Paula Gordon remembers.

Event Information

Hiding in the Spotlight

book by Gregg Dawson, play by Candy Dawson ...story of girls who survived the holocaust by their piano playing


Unitarian Universalist Church 2120 N. Fee Lane Bloomington, IN

Wed. Nov. 9, Sat. Nov. 12 at 7:30, and Sun. Nov 13, 2:30, 2011

CKT box office, 323 3020

Hiding in the Spotlight at the Unitarian Universalist Church in a production by the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington is the story of two pianistically talented Ukrainian Jewish girls’ survival during the Holocaust. Paula Gordon is masterful as she plays Zhanna Arshanskay telling the story to her grand-daughter Aimee Dawson played with bright charm by the real Aimee.

Even before the holocaust, things were bad in Ukraine. At first Zhanna’s family is persecuted because they are Jews who aren’t Communist Party members and later just because they are Jews. Following the Nazi invasion, the family is rounded up with other Jews in the area, abused, starved and finally simply shot and buried in a mass grave. Zhanna’s telling of her story is dramatized in brief scenes by a dozen actors who play multiple roles. It’s a harrowing tale.

Zhanna’s father bribes a guard to let her escape and somehow her younger sister Frina joins her. Through a series of adventures with a bit of help from unlikely sources the two manage to pass themselves off as Russian orphans and eventually attract the attention of a music loving German commandant. Always in fear of discovery, the two survive the war playing public concerts across Germany and Russia.

Liberation finally comes and Zhanna and Frina are once again saved as their piano playing attracts a music loving American commandant. This leads almost magically to America, scholarships to Julliard and eventual marriage for Zhanna to a fellow musician who brings her to the faculty at Indiana University.

The production of Hiding in the Spotlight directed by Darrell Stone is a choreographed reading with some clever casting and doubling. Clare Mattson as the young Zhanna is able to play the piano parts at just the right level for the production. Ben Abbott turns in a nice performance as both the music loving Nazi commandant and the equally music loving American commandant. Jeff Stone plays the Russian Communist who harasses the family before the war and the Nazi who drives them to their eventual destruction during the war. He also gets to play a couple of amusingly quirky good guys. Not so Christopher Staley who’s sole part is that of a frighteningly loathsome collaborator, a former neighbor who seems to want to out Nazi the Nazis.

As a fill up at the conclusion of the play, young pianist Kailah Young came forward for a lovely performance of a Chopin Fantasy that had been a signature piece for Zhanna and the real Zhanna joined her and the cast on stage for a standing ovation.

The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington’s production of Hiding in the Spotlight at the Unitarian Universalist Church has final performances Saturday November 12th at 7:30 and Sunday November 13th at 2:30. Students with ID are admitted free.

George Walker

George Walker was born in Winchester, Virginia, and raised in Owl’s Head, Maine, and Valhalla, New York. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he came to Bloomington in 1966 and completed an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University. George began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Currently, along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists in a wide variety of areas and reviews plays and operas. He’s the proud father of grown sons Ben Walker (and his wife Elise Katzif Walker) and Aaron Walker. In his time away from WFIU, George enjoys an active life with wife Carolyn Lipson-Walker, singing, reading, exercising and playing guitar.

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