by J*Company
Auschwitz. Treblinka. Nazi Germany. Holocaust. Hitler. The events surrounding World War II comprise a time that the majority of the world looks back on in horror, disgust, and in many cases, disbelief. So much has already been written about this horrific time in human history. And yet, there are so many more stories, more experiences to share so that we never forget the tragedies that took so many lives and the events that completely changed the world.
Luckily, author Charmaine Spencer has told another of these stories in her world premiere play Fireflies. Her new historical fiction centers around the experience of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a teacher who moved to Theresienstadt, known now as Terezin, in what was then Czechoslovakia. This ghetto was used to concentrate primarily Czechoslovakian Jews during World War II. In this community, the Gestapo allowed the teaching of subjects such as art and music, but strictly forbade the teaching of math, reading, and other academic subjects. 
Dicker-Brandeis served as the art teacher for the community, and helped to organize the underground school movement teaching academics to the Jewish youth. Spencer's drama centers around Dicker-Brandeis and how she influenced the students to "draw what you see." Joey Landwher's production uses numerous images from actual artwork of Terezin students, artwork that had been secretly salvaged and hidden by Dicker-Brandeis in the hopes that they would eventually be able to show the world what horrors the Jews at Terezin had actually faced.
In addition, Spencer's story incorporates the visit of the Red Cross to the community and the charade that the Nazis created to give the illusion that the Jewish community in Terezin was well attended. This charade included building a bandstand, a cafe and a park. It included restructuring of barracks so that the beds were not piled one on top of the other. To assist in the charade, the Nazis deported the sickly and the weak to Auschwitz and other extermination camps in order to make the ghetto look healthier and happier.  Lastly, the Gestapo, demanded that teachers put together a happy, sugar-coated children's opera, Brundibar, which is also included in J*Company's production of Fireflies.
Spencer's work is well-written, coupling the historical background with the fictional contrivances necessary to move the story along. Her characters are sympathetic and believably written. Abbi Hirschfeld portrays Dicker-Brandeis in a very stoic, straightforward manner, commanding the stage and the respect of those around her. Hirschfeld is well-balanced by Daniel Myers's energetic and emotional portrayal of Leo, a young Jewish man who is determined that he alone can take on the entire Gestapo and free the community. Completing the group is Mady Maio, who plays Rebecca, the empathic and deeply feeling young lady drawn to Leo's charisma and Dicker-Brandeis's teaching. It is much of this characters' artwork that we see throughout the production hung on the walls of the set and used as a projected backdrop.
Other notable performances come from the musical portion of the show, the children's opera Brundibar, used as the opening to Act 2. Nathaniel Pick and Halle Hoffman portray the two children Pepicek and Aninku, who are searching for milk for their sick mother. Pick and Hoffman's voices are strong and right on the money throughout the opera. In addition, Danielle Levin as the Cat and Elisa Greenberg as the Sparrow combine with Daniel Myers, who plays the dog in the opera, to create a strong-voiced trio that help Pepicek and Aninku bring the people of the town together against the organ grinder Brundibar (Mara Jacobs), the musical tyrant of the town. Lastly, although not a principal character in the opera, Celia Tedde's Ice Cream Seller provided excellent comic relief; Tedde's vocal choices and physicality were bold and strong.
The tragedies that befell the Jewish community, not to mention numerous other fringe groups, are seemingly unspeakable, and yet, they must be told. They must be heard. They must be remembered. And Spencer's remarkable play, not to mention J*Company's excellent production of it, joins the canon of plays, memoirs, collections, and recordings that help us do just that. Remember.  And never forget.

Performed May 8 - 17, 2009

Walter Allen
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Mady Maio (Rebecca)
Rachel Friedman (Eva)
Abbie Hirschfeld (Frield Dicker-Brandeis)
Robbie Friedman (Pavel Brandeis)
Darien Sepulveda (SS Officer)
Eric Huckabee (Guard)
Julian Kalb (Guard)
Nathaniel Pick (Pepicek)
Halle Hoffman (Aninku)
Julian Kalb (Doctor)
Lindsey Morrison (Nurse)
Mara Jacobs (Brundibar)
Katherine Houk (Monkey)
Celia Tedde (Ice Cream Seller)
Mikayla Stern-Ellis (Milk Seller)
Evan Bramberg (Baker)
Eric Huckabee (Policeman)
Elisa Greenberg (Sparrow)
Danielle Levin (Cat)
Daniel Myers (Dog)
School Children
Hannah Blythe
Gabrielle Burkolz
Mikayla Chang
Annie Charlat
Tiffany Chasson
Lilah Cook
Rebecca Engel
Rebecca Epner
Sophia Friedman
Avalon Greeberg Call
Talia Israel
Lily Katzeff
Rachel Kornberg
Avery Kotler
Gabi Leibowitz
Madison Leone
Sierra Lieb
Ilana Mereminsky
Cameron Pazek
Rebecca Penner
Brooke Posnock
Anika Prednis
Eli Rubenstein
Gabrielle Smot rich
Megan Spector
Adults of the Town
David Ahmadian
Kelsey Barnhill
Carlos Galek
Andrew Golub
Jamie Golub
Danya Greenberg
Lily Greenberg Call
Rachel Friedman
Julian Kalb
Taylor Kamps
Gabriela Lipson
Mady Maio
Conrad Mazur
Lynda Morris
Casandra Ramsey
Mary Grace Sumner


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