Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The Holocaust Kid" -- Sensitive and Responsive


Keep your eyes out for a nearby production of this one.....

Sonia Pilcer began this project, as a book, during the early 1980s. Her bio tells us: "Little did she know it would take almost twenty years, five literary agents, and rejections from forty houses before 'The Holocaust Kid' would see the light of day."

It was published in 2001 and she began to adapt to work on a scripted modification. Shakespeare&Company presented it (in one act form) in 2003. The two-act version has been performed a few times. Last Sunday, S&Co brought it very much to life with a staged reading in Founders' Theater.

Frankly, I went to see Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jonathan Epstein perform. The last time I had seen them on stage together was in a Boston-based "Othello." Each is an impressive actor. I had read little about the play -- not enough to realize that a cast of four, not two, would be reading. It was an inclement day; that and a nagging injury conspired against my desire to make the one hour trip. Besides, I was not one hundred percent certain that, however valuable (and all of it surely is), Holocaust-related fare would satisfy me.

Fortunately, "The Holocaust Kid," far from over-bearing and actually quite comedic at times, is relevant, fresh, and inviting. The bad weather front stalled and I forgot that my big left toe hurt. Nothing like affecting live theater to cure what ails.

Here's the deal: During the late 1980s in New York City an attractive woman named Zosha (journalist and wannabe respected writer) - played by Aspenlieder - meets Uly (Seth Kanor). Uly has published a major book, studied the Holocaust extensively. That he is attracted to Zosha is not surprising. She was born in a Displaced Persons camp. Zosha's father, Heniek (Epstein) survived Auschwitz and met the woman he would marry, Genia (Nancy Rothman), in Poland after the conclusion of the second world war.

The parents do and don't wish to intrude upon their daughter's times. Does this sound at all familiar? It is funny. Epstein, deadpan for much of the time, is quite hilarious with his one, two, three, and four word responses. Rothman is loving, dedicated, and wishes only for the best.

Zosha and Uly generate quite a bit of heat. The scripts (which were otherwise non-distractive) limited physical clinches, kisses.....That said, Aspenlieder and Kanor effectively/convincingly embraced, hugged - you get the picture. It's a pleasure to observe poised actors.

The second act begins and we find that Zosha is pregnant. Uly hasn't any interest in becoming a father. "The Holocaust Kid" develops and unfolds further.

Listen, this is pretty compelling stuff and Pilcer is not heavy-handed. Her themes are recognizable and the characters show dimension and scope.

Aspenlieder, a physical performer who is one of S&Co's foremost actors, presents an honest, sometimes insecure yet hopeful, and loving Zosha. The play spins about her. Pilcer, in a playbill author's note, refers to Aspenlieder as her "alter ego." Epstein, Rothman, and Kanor are absolutely vital. In fact, there was something special about seeing them perform on stage with: several chairs, a wooden desk and table, and period typewriter serving as the only furnishings. I decline to suggest that a conventional and more fully realized production would upgrade.

Here's a notion regarding the scripted version I witnessed. Uly disappears from the scene sometime during the first act and does not reappear until Zosha has confirmed that she is carrying a child. I believe that Uly should be back on stage during the latter portion of the first hour. Perhaps his prescence could be marked with just a few lines of dialogue.

Ultimately, "The Holocaust Kid" is ardent and rich. Further, it's an important work and, told from Pilcer's perspective, becomes most distinctive. Robert Walsh's direction certainly was an asset in Lenox.


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