Some of the cast members are themselves youngsters, he said. “I directed them in ‘Snow White,’ ” he said. “This is a lot more serious.”
Holocaust shorts are serious turn for Actors Circle
July 04. 2013 11:32PM
It’s 1938, the Germans have marched into Austria, and the mother and father of a Christian family are uneasy. Anti-Semitism seems to be getting worse; Jewish people are mysteriously disappearing from their community.
When a Jewish acquaintance knocks on their door, says her husband has been taken away and asks this couple to shelter her two young daughters, they agree.
Now, instead of three girls in their family, there are five.
That’s the premise of “Isolation,” one of several original short plays and testimonies, all dealing with World War II, to be presented Thursday through July 13 by Actors Circle in Scranton.
As playwright and director Lou Bisignani explains, the family in “Isolation,” which he also calls “the Vienna play,” soon faces the threat of discovery. The oldest daughter becomes friendly with a girl whose uncle is the Gauleiter, or neighborhood squealer.“He asks to come to their house to visit. Naturally, they’re very afraid. He’s very pleasant and asks who these two extra girls are. ‘Oh, they’re our cousins from Linz.’ He asks them to say their prayers, and the youngest one is very reluctant, even though she’s been rehearsing (Christian prayers) for a month. She stumbles a little and an older girl helps her, but the Gauleiter says, ‘I know what’s going on here, and you’re all under arrest.’ ”
At this particularly suspenseful point, Bisignani stopped and asked, “Do you want to know what happens next? You’ll have to come to the show.”
Fair enough. Those who do will find several offerings that provide glimpses into the challenges and outright horrors of the World War II era.
While “The Summer There Was No August” describes the effects of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, most of the other pieces deal with Europe and the Holocaust.
“We have a young girl reading from ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ as if she is Anne and just finished writing,” Bisignani said.
One piece is based on the true experiences of a friend of Actors Circle who narrowly escaped Nazi persecution as a 5-year-old, and another shows two children picking blueberries in Poland near a train, from which voices are begging for water. A third is based on a manuscript a friend gave Bisignani decades ago.
The man, Ben Weinreb, escaped from a ghetto into a forested region and fought with partisans against the Nazis, Bisignani said. After the war, he returned to his hometown and found his entire family had been killed. Weinreb came to America and, with a partner, established an upscale line of pants under the label Bensaul.
The partners’ less expensive line of trousers, Pawnee Pants, was manufactured at a factory in Northeastern Pennsylvania owned by Bisignani’s father, which is how he got to know Weinreb.
“He knew I was interested in theater, so he gave me the story,” Bisignani said.
The present batch of one-acts and testimonials, some only 4 or 5 minutes long, would be educational for younger audience members who might not be familiar with World War II, Bisignani said.