By Ron Hirsen
Directed by Dennis Zacek
Produced by The Elegy Project, Inc.
At the Richard Christiansen Theater
at the Victory Gardens Theater
ELEGY: “a sad poem or song : a poem or song that
expresses sorrow for someone who is dead.”
Moving story of guilt, sadness, and letting go haunts us as much as the characters.
The haunting sounds from Bill Meyers’ cello underscores this beautifully heartfelt story of a family’s perpetual torment from the Holocaust. Elegy emerges as a fitting elegy for the dead as a means of letting go by the most effected person in the family – Helmut (the empathetic David Wohl).
Set in the 1970’s and earlier, 1938 during the Kristallnacht pogrom in Berlin to Auschwitz in 1942, we meet Hilde (Iris Lieberman) as she discovers her 20 something son Jerry (Justin Leider) in their home’s attic. Jerry finds a poem written in German with the same handwriting as his fathers. Hilde makes Jerry promise that he would not confront Helmut (Jerry’s father) to acknowledge that he once wrote poetry back in pre-WWII Germany. Yet, Jerry is also haunted indirectly by collective memories and attitudes about the horrors of the Holocaust. A distant, perpetually sad father fuels Jerry’s insecurity. Hilde does her best to keep the family functioning.
This 75 minute one act weaves through time and location to tell the family’s story. We meet they 18 year old Hilde (Iris Lieberman deftly transforms herself via a cute smile and a teen-like persona to a sweet young girl) as she is smitten by the mature, poetry-writing Helmut residing in his father’s cafe in Berlin circa 1938. As the fear from the window-smashing Kristallnacht forces Hilde and Helmut into the cafe’s cellar, they are both comforted by Helmut’s poetry. His poem featuring the “Rose” become Hilde’s keepsake.
Flash forward to the 1970’s as Jerry confronts his father to read aloud German poetry from his youth. Jerry is struggling to deal with the anguish he feels from his tormented Jewish parents, especially from his father’s painful time in Auschwitz. The transformation and redemptive letting go of the pain of the past that frees all in this family is wonderfully presented. It emerges as a poem – Helmut’s ending speech.it is a specially moving theatrical moment.
David Wohl anchors this terrific cast that features wonderful moments from the fabulous Iris Lieberman with an effective turn from Bernard Beck as the all-too German father of Helmut. Newcomer Justin Leider is terrific as the haunted son. This is a heartfelt little work that packs a wallop. It is a fine tribute to all those stories that continue to torment Holocaust surviving families. Elegy is a finely crafted drama.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 5, 2013
For more info checkout the Elegy page at theatreinchicago.com
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, tickets $42, www.elegyproject.org, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission, through December 1, 2103