The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington has mounted a magical production of Wendy Graf’s Leipzig in the Rose Firebay of the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. Devout Catholic Suzanne Lang Fodor’s sympathetic young journalist Helen is having her world ripped apart. Her long troubled mother Eva powerfully played by Jan Lucas is showing signs of Alzheimer’s and one symptom is that she starts to pray in Hebrew.
Eva was sent out of Germany after Kristallnacht, raised as a Catholic by a foster family and when she married George, a stoic David Mosedale agreed to keep her Jewish past a secret. Daughter Helen has long suspected that things weren’t quite right with her troubled mother and she’s often thought that perhaps she herself was either crazy or to blame.
Playwright Wendy Graf who came for a JTB staged reading in 2010 finds the story of children separated from their families even more important in these times than it was then.
Director Jenny McKnight and her talented cast skillfully alternate scenes of the drama in Helen’s present chaos with earlier family scenes in Germany. The versatile and centered Jonathan Golembiecki plays Eva’s father Vati. He’s a young lover, a proud German Jew secure with his army medal from World War I, and as the patriarch frightened enough by the changes in his city to send Eva away to safety. His partner, Anna Doyle was the graceful Mutti, a young lover, Eva’s mother and Helen’s grandmother. All were unable to get visas and died in the camps.
Reid Henry played Eva’s fiery heroic brother Erich. He was shot in Paris for aiding the resistance.
Throughout Leipzig’s twists, turns and jumps from country to country and decade to decade Helen’s struggle to piece together her family’s story and just who she is remains central to the production. During her struggles with the stone walls of her father and her mother’s increasing symptoms, Helen seeks respite and occasional counsel from an imaginary friend from childhood, Jesus. Caleb Curtis is a charmingly barefoot Christ. He’s a resting place for Helen, sometimes with insights and more often with questions.
In the intimate and flexible set designed by Jenny Fisher, Brennen Edwards’ lighting design helped focus our eyes on the action. Joel Watson’s music choices and special effects were very much a part of the drama. Jessica Van Winkle’s costumes fitted the story nicely and I especially admired her period inspired dress for Mutti. Julia Karen Lawson is the dialect coach and the German from the family in Leipzig was very much a part of their confident characterizations.
Last Thursday’s performance of “Leipzig” was potent and emotional for most of the audience, especially in light of the world we live in today with growing hate of “the other”. And with Saturday’s massacre of Jews in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, this Bloomington production of “Leipzig” is even more disturbing and consequential.
The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington presents Wendy Graf’s Leipzig in the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center’s Rose Firebay. Performances continue on November 1st and 3rd at 7:30 .
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker