MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Book of Joseph

A World Premiere.

By Karen Hartman.

Based on the life of Joseph A. Hollander and his family.

Directed by Barbara Gaines.

Creative Producer: Rick Boynton.

At Chicago Shakespeare’s Upstairs Theatre.

“Telling a story can free you from the burden of that story.”

A compelling chronicle about a real family’s struggle from 1939 to the present.

Kudos to the creatives at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for commissioning and producing The Book of Joseph from Richard Holland’s publication of his father’s story and the collection of family letters: “Every Day Lasts A Year.” Karen Hartman was commissioned to adapt the Holland letters into a stage play with the help of Rick Boynton and directed by Barbara Gaines. The result is a most compelling and empathetic story. This is a true story based on actual letters and documents found by Richard Hollander upon the accidental death of his mother and father in 1986 from an auto accident.  Richard found a trunk filled with numbered letters to and from the Hollander family together with legal documents chronicling the struggles from 1939 through 1945 as Joseph Hollander struggled to survive World War II.

The work is narrated by Richard Hollander (Francis Guinan in a most empathetic and likable turn) that plays like a documentary book presentation. As Richard presents the letters, we see video and photos of the documents and footage of war-torn Poland depicting day-to-day in Nazi occupied Poland.

We learn that Joseph Holland, an attorney and travel agent realized in summer of 1939 that the Nazi would soon attack Poland and that would be a threat to Polish Jews based on how German Jews were treated. He devised a play to relocate his entire family  to Portugal via Yugoslavia, Italy then Lisbon. The Holland clan  was to leave with proper documents days before the Nazi attack on Poland. unfortunately, his family didn’t share his fear being optimists and affluent polish Jews. But Richard and his wife did leave Poland with a 14 year old by, Arnold Spitzman (Brenann Stacker) just before the Greman attack. His family stayed in Krakow, Poland.

After being denied entry to Portugal, Joseph’s group ended up in New York’s Ellis Island as undocumented aliens. Much of act one deals with Joseph’s attempts to fight with American Immigrant service and courts in an attempt to stay in the USA. He appealed to Elanor Roosevelt and the Secretary of State during the early 1940’s.

During this time, Joseph and the family still in Poland exchanged carefully written letters about the condition of the family. Joseph tried to get visas to Nicaragua but getting clearance for a Jewish family in Poland from the Nazis was impossible. After struggling with he American court system, Joseph enlisted in the US Army in order to gain his citizenship. Along the way he divorced his Polish wife then married his American love, Vita Fischman (Patricia Lavery). Joseph’s Army time found him trying to locate his mission family.

Act Two of The Book of Joseph features Craig Hollander (Adam Weseley Brown), Richard’s son as he enters the stage as he pushes his father to confront the father-son recognition that now haunts Richard about why he waited 18 years to have the letters translated fro German and Polish. What was Richard afraid of? We see Richard amazed that Joseph was indeed a hero despite being unable to save his Polish family. Richard was impressed about knowledge of his Polish ancestors.

With smartly effective staging and vital videos (by Mike Tutaj) and with winning performances by the ensemble, especially by Sean Fortunato and Francis Guinan, The Book of Joseph is more than simply another true Holocaust play – if becomes a cautionary tale about our present policy about discrimination staging Islam can lead to disaster.  The Book of Joseph is a ‘must see’ work that is wonderfully presented.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: February 5, 2017.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout The Book of Joseph page at

At Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, navy Pier, Chicago, IL,call12-595-5600. tickets $38 – $58, Tuesdays at 7;30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7;30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 5, 2017.