Play about mother's startling secret has a timely message 

By Joel Pierson H-T columnist - October 21, 2018

Jewish Theatre of Bloomington is back with some, well, Jewish theater—more accurately a play with Jewish themes and a universal appeal. 

 

It’s Wendy Graf’s “Leipzig,” a show they first performed in 2010 as a staged reading. Now, eight years later, the play is getting a full staging at the Waldron’s Rose Firebay.

From Left to Right: Anna Doyle, Caleb Curtis, Reid Henry, and Jan Lucas in Leipzig (2018)

I talked with JTB founder Audrey Heller about the return of “Leipzig” and what it means to the company. “Eva’s survival was the result of being sent to America for safety when Hitler rose to power,” she told me. “The rest of her family stayed behind and were victims of the slaughter. In America, Eva was raised by a Catholic woman who was the family’s governess before she immigrated to America. Eva married a Catholic man, and the two made a pact that she would erase all memories of her past and they would never talk about it.

“When her mother begins praying in Hebrew and the secret is revealed, Helen is devastated. How can she accept being Jewish when all her life she had been a devout Catholic? She calls on her childhood imaginary friend, a Jesus figure to help her through her religious identity crisis.”

Playwright Graf also shared her thoughts about the play. “Anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant/refugee rhetoric and deadly acts increase all over the globe. Unbelievably, in our own country, children are separated from their parents at the border, likely to never see them again.

“I started thinking about ‘Leipzig’ and how these horrible, tragic patterns were rearing their ugly faces again. Had we not learned anything from history, from the tragic consequences of Nazi Germany and other fascist and authoritarian regimes? From other horrific instances of children being ripped away from their parents, only to suffer lifelong consequences? Are we doomed to repeat history?”

Graf will be in the audience for opening night and will be part of a talkback panel that evening.

“‘Leipzig’ brings to light an important and devastating part of the Jewish experience,” Heller told me. “While Eva’s story is fictional, it is based on what actually happened to many survivors who, because of survivor’s guilt, fear of experiencing another Holocaust, fear of exposing their children to horrific external influences, buried their past, refusing to discuss it with their children who grew up in painful bewilderment, always aware that there was something wrong but not knowing what it was. As these children grew up, support groups sprang up all over the world for children of Holocaust survivors.”

At a time when cultural intolerance is increasing, JTB’s production of this play strives to foster greater understanding of the experiences of others.

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.

It’s the story of an Irish-Catholic family whose mother, Eva, (Jan Lucas) develops Alzheimer’s disease and begins praying in Hebrew. This gives up her lifelong secret that she is Jewish. Her adult daughter, Helen (Suzanne Lang-Fodor) is a devout Catholic and must now deal with this startling revelation. To help, she begins a personal monologue with Jesus (or an imaginary friend by the same name). Her father (David Mosedale), meanwhile, remains in denial. “Leipzig” examines questions about faith, identity, loyalty and family.

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