How do you tell children about man's inhumanity to man? When you just scratch the surface of the Holocaust, you find unspeakable horror and anguish that you instinctively want to shield children from. But it's important to tell these stories so they are not forgotten.
The Lexington Children's Theatre is doing that with James Still's And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, a multimedia production that reminds us the Holocaust happened to people of all ages, including children.
The story is based on the memories of Holocaust survivors Eva Geiringer Schloss and Ed Silverberg, who were teenagers during World War II, as well as Anne's famous diary and other sources. In just 75 minutes, young Eva and Ed and their peers go from being focused on typical teen concerns to enduring the Nazi regime by fleeing, hiding and, in the case of Schloss and her family, being sent to a concentration camp.
The play never becomes graphic like many Holocaust documentaries or dramas. But through four effective performances, we get to know the characters as typical people we recognize — and then we follow them into hell.
Bri Dankers has the darkest journey as young Eva, whose biggest concern at the start of the show is a fear of talking to boys. We watch her endure nearly two years of hiding in Amsterdam, where she was friends with Anne, only to be captured and tortured by Nazis on her 15th birthday. She and her mother are then shipped to Auschwitz, herded into locked train cars like cattle and made to enduring brutal conditions at the infamous death camp including extreme cold, starvation, lice, rats and bedbugs.
Marcy Thornsberry seamlessly transitions between playing Eva's long-suffering mother and a coquettish Anne, who has young Ed, played by Michael Whitten, smitten with the first bat of her eyelashes.
All four actors multi-task, and one of Christopher Freeman's jobs is portraying a Hitler Youth, trained to commit inhumane acts and follow orders without question.
One of the most chilling moments is when Eva tells him that 5.86 million Jews died in the Holocaust. He replies that he was following orders. The statement sits there as the lame excuse it is. But his story and Still's detailing of the familiar difficulties Germans faced — unemployment, growing poverty — drive home how slippery the slope is from scapegoating to brutality.
Under Vivian Snipes' direction, the actors bring the story home and, though they are all college graduates, convincingly portray teenagers.
The multimedia is ambitious but sometimes gets in the way of the storytelling, particularly in the beginning. We are initially told we are in a museum of sorts, but then the museumgoers start to become characters in the story; the museum framework doesn't really hold.
The real-life Eva and Ed speak for themselves via video clips, though sometimes the actors portraying them overlap dialogue with the videos, and it's hard to discern where we should be focusing. Also, some of the clips are overlong and drag the play's momentum.
Scenic, sound and video designer Jerome Willis does a good job integrating the video into the set in a creative way.
The Holocaust will never be an easy story to tell; it shouldn't be. There could be a fair argument that And Then They Came for Me spares the viewer too much. But this is intended as an introduction to the story for grades fourth and above; it's not the final word.
In LCT's production, students will find themselves looking at this story through the eyes of people much like themselves.