By Sheila Barth
Versatile Anne Marilyn Lucas never fails to surprise audiences with her theatrical prowess, whether she’s singing, acting, directing, or, in this case, with the newest play she wrote and successfully debuted off-Broadway.
Cozy Marblehead Little Theatre is an ideal venue for Lucas’ one-act, 90-minute drama, “From Silence,” the fictitious story of Esther Gold, a Holocaust survivor, who refuses to discuss the horrors she witnessed and survived at Nazi concentration camps- especially the infamous Ravensbruck, where grotesque medical experiments were conducted on prisoners. Prisoners also heard gunshots reverberating as execution squads murdered prisoners at the camp’s shooting wall.
Lucas was inspired by Holocaust survivor Judith Sherman, originally from Czechoslovakia, who survived Auschwitz and Ravensbruck concentration camps. Sherman was liberated by Russian soldiers during the Death March in 1945. Lucas’ play focuses on the emotional effects of Esther Gold, a grandmother living a “normal” life in New Jersey. The play shifts back and forth from 1944 to the 1980s, and today.
Under John Fogle’s skillful, artistic direction and his cleverly designed two-tiered, tri-sectioned, floor-level set, “From Silence” creates a triangle of Esther’s life. Above the stage, in the background, a black, opaque scrim obscures young Esther (nicely portrayed by Tina Barry) in Ravensbruck, garbed in prisoners’ gray-and-black striped uniform, her hair covered with a babushka. She’s cold, starving, crying, fearful. Erika Buchmann, kindly prisoner “hostess” (Nora Falk) comforts Esther, smuggling an extra potato or blanket to the girl, while Esther’s fatalistic cellmate lies nearby.
At stage left, there’s a girl’s messy bedroom, her clothes, books, and shoes strewn everywhere. Esther’s young granddaughter, Elaina, is asleep in bed, until her nightmares arouse her. Her mother Deborah, who also suffers from recurrent nightmares, comforts Elaina, readying her to attend Hebrew school. Elderly Esther (a terrific Sharon Mason) sits, paces, refusing to answer her phone.
At times, young Esther, (Barry), adult Esther (Gale Argentine), seated at stage right, and centrally-located, elderly Esther are a Greek chorus, committing the same movements, saying the same phrases, but with different meaning. The effect is profound.
Although Esther’s life has changed radically, the past is painfully, perpetually, with her. Hearing intoned news of radical and political attacks throughout the years, (kudos, sound designers Peter Zachary and Fogle), Esther wrings her hands, trembles, fearful the horror can erupt anywhere anew.So when told her Elaina’s temple suddenly is in lockdown and shots were fired there, Esther becomes increasingly agitated.
Sharon Mason’s scenes with doe-eyed, pixie-faced Rebecca Greene portraying Elaina, are charismatic. Their tender, loving bond speaks volumes.
Aided by lighting director Greg Mancusi-Ungaro’s timely spotlights, the play shifts back and forth, from Esther in Ravensbruck, to the temple lockdown and grandmother Esther’s fear for Elaina’s life, to Esther as a young mother and daughter Deborah as a child (Maeve Gaddipati). Subtle incidents, such as adult Esther’s reacting angrily to Deborah’s black-and-white striped sports uniform and team number, is poignant. Like Esther’s flashbacks, Deborah and Elaina have experienced terrifying nightmares, prompting them to plead with Esther to relate her story, but she resolutely refuses.
Hushed silence settles over theatergoers during refrains of Debbie Friedman’s melodic healing prayer, “Mi shebeirach,” the cast’s soulful recitation of the Kaddish, traditional Hebrew memorial prayer and their holding flickering, yahrzeit candlights.
The cast also includes Alex Alexander as adult Deborah; Hannah Wagner, Meghan Holtz, and Stanis Ames.
Sometimes, the script gets weighted down with repetitive scenes of Esther’s agitation and Elaina and Deborah’s pleas to Esther to tell her story; but it’s a tale that must be told, especially to younger audiences, so they will know, understand, that terror exists everywhere, and evil can rise again.
Debbie Friedman, who died in 2011, said, “….We are not just the recipients of blessings but the messengers of blessing as well. Remember, out of what emerges from life’s painful challenges will come our healing And ultimately, our greatest healing will come when we use our suffering to heal another’s pain – to release another from their confinement. And you shall be a blessing.”