Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek (Ryan Craig, English version) The Wilma, Oct 19 – Nov. 13, 2011, Review of Oct. 22 evening performance airs on WRTI, 90. 1 FM, Oct. 27
No one’s a hero in Tadeusz Slobodozianek’s Our Class at The Wilma. This important work based on history disturbs everywhere it plays –as it should – especially in Poland. Catholics and Jews don’t like seeing themselves portrayed so brutally human. The play, a U.S. premiere imagines 10 children of the 1,600 Jews burnt in a village in Poland (Jedwabne) by their own neighbors. The Catholic Poles did it to save their own skin. They caved to their demons and the anti-Semitic oppression of the Russian armies. To be under the strain of two horrific regimes – Soviets and Nazis, who can survive this without cracking?
In “Our Class,” children from 1925 onward, are seen playing, learning, singing, but always and more often, the Jews must head to the back of the class. As Hitler takes power only one – Abram -escapes to America. His entire family is wiped out, he thinks by the Nazis. Too late, he learns, they have been murdered by his own people. No accident the set features a glass house!
The first act of Our Class we see the children’s growing up into anxiety and treachery. Zygmunt who turns coat to spy for the Soviets against his classmates; Sweet Dora, who will suffer rape and worse, shy Rachelkik who does not love the Pole who will save her life. Often in the background of this ghostly set, we hear the classmates humming childhood tunes. Some sad, some witty – tunes it would be nice to have the volume turned up.
The second act shows us what has become of the survivors for two Jews will survive – and the perpetrators. Here compression would be welcome. The actors, all ten at the Wilma, are each in their way magnificent. The perennial optimist Abram, could tone down some of the hamminess underlining type. It would make his ending more beautiful. Our Class is a courageous work. Blanka Zizka brilliantly directs.