Playwright Wendy Kout was commissioned by a Jewish organization in Rochester, New York to create Survivors, the stories of 10 local residents. In this adaptation, she places those stories into a play within a play, adding commentary and resonance, as well as illustrating that the lessons of the Holocaust must continue to be taught to younger generations.
Cast members Evie Abat, Adam Foster Ballard, Eliza Blair, Michael Kaczkowski, Joey Millin and Sarah Tubert expertly play multiple characters. When Never Is Now opens, they’re actors rehearsing a play about the Holocaust, along with a director and playwright. They lament the delay in set-up that has left the stage relatively bare (clever), then begin to act out survivors’ diverse and remarkable stories.
They are overcome by emotion and must break character as they embody survivors who endured unimaginable atrocities. They can’t help asking questions and addressing the rise of fascism and parallels to our own uncertain times.
Hitler’s rise to power was built on categorizing and calling out “the other,” “the degenerates,” “the undesirables.” Through inciting speech, ever-more-restrictive laws and the harnessing of evil, he built a society and a system that became an all-subsuming horror. The survivors’ stories told here put us squarely in their European cities and villages, confronting the reality of their time and struggling to make it through alive.
We know survivors now as elders, but here they are just beginning their adult lives, falling in love, starting careers, going out on their own when disaster strikes. Their harrowing wartime tales segue into postwar struggles, and, ultimately, long and meaningful lives.
The play’s origins as a piece to teach students about the Holocaust are clear, as a litany of events, from Kristallnacht to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, are enumerated. Some of the writing veers into exposition, but quickly returns to the personal stories that are the heart of Never Is Now.
Directors Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera keep the show moving, making the most of the sparse set and employing projections to powerful effect.
The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps; survivors’ ranks are dwindling. Thanks to the efforts of the many who have endeavored to memorialize them, their words and lives can continue, as lessons and inspiration, for generations. Never Is Now plays a role in ensuring we will Never Forget.
Never Is Now runs through October 27 at the Skylight Theatre 1816 ½ North Vermont. Performances are Fridays at 8:30pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:30pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. Guest panel discussions take place after Sunday matinees. Note that there is no performance on Sunday, Sept. 29, due to Rosh Hashanah. Tickets start at $20. For reservations call (213) 761-7061 or visit www.SkylightTix.org. Street parking can be a little tough; for parking guidance, visit http://skylighttheatre.org/plan-your-visit/.