Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Number of People

Written & Directed by Emilie Beck

number of people by emilie beck

Produced by Piven Theatre Workshop

At the Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston

Heart wrenching performance by Bernard Beck fuels memory play

Veteran Piven Theatre Workshop member Bernard Beck not only gave a tour de force performance as Leo Gold, a fictional Holocaust survivor but he also gave a masterclass in acting. His 90 minute performance as an aging man confused by memory lapses while muddling between reenacting the horrors of Holocaust and wondering who the audience members are – was a most engaging theatrical event.

bernard beck number of people

Emilie Beck, Bernard’s, daughter, wrote and directed Number of People with her father in mind to play Leo.  Emilie’s expertly written script wisely spends enough time having Leo deal with his short term forgetfulness indicating dementia’s creep.  She cleverly has little sounds (terrific sound design by Jack Arky) jolt Leo back to his Holocaust days where little anecdotes become vividly relived and spoken,  only to find Leo jolted back to the present by another sound a few minutes later.

bernard beck number of people

Bernard Beck demonstrate how sharp Leo was as a statistician where he sees life in terms of numbers in an abstract metaphor for human existence. We are 1’s, his wife was an 8 and his daughter is an 11. Sprinkling his atheistic beliefs with the randomness of life, Leo makes a case for how we really don’t remember history and how we are doomed to repeat it. He shows vividly how we are all “really the bad guys.”

Bernard Beck’s amazingly honest performance had me remembering my talks with a Auschwitz survivor in the 1960-70’s. Beck referenced “that look” that survivors of atrocities (whether in Yugoslavia,  Rwanda, Cambodia or Sri Lanka) possessed in their eyes. I did see that look and I’ll never forget it.

Beck deftly moves through the uncertain and chaotic world of old age where memory loss completely frustrates life.  Of course, Beck’s powerful (and scary) scenes depicting horrors from his camp days in the Holocaust moved me almost to tears. His memory of almost violently taking revenge on a German boy was a dramatic high point. Beck also tells the story of how Leo worked counting victims of African atrocities (probably Rwanda) by telling us about a young girl who survived a massacre at a church. See had the “look” as well as a razor thin body. He demonstrates how soon we forget.

I can’t remember a more intense and powerful one person show than the one I witnessed as Piven Theatre Workshop with Bernard Beck’s stunning Number of People. Leo’s asks “who will witness?” We must and the Beck’s will show us the way. Number of People is not only mesmerizing theatre but an important cautionary  tale.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Piven Theatre Workshop in the Noyes Cultural Center, 927 N. Noyes, Evanston, IL, call 847-866-8049,, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through April 25, 2010

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