I will admit that I entered the auditorium at International City Theatre to see and hear Alan L. Brooks’ play, A Splintered Soul, with a bit of trepidation. I knew from the press release that the story concerns Holocaust survivors adjusting to life in San Francisco in 1947. As a teenager in 1963, I learned about the Jewish genocide in a class all sophomores were compelled to experience that consisted, in part, of two films, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will that documented the Nazi Party’s grandiose 1935 Nuremberg Rally glorifying Adolf Hitler, and the French documentary, Night and Fog, which featured shots of the abandoned death camps Auschwitz and Majdanek, as well as live action Nazi films and black and white stills that revealed the unfathomable ugliness of “the final solution.” It was tough stuff to watch—scenes of bodies bulldozed into trenches; people descending from cattle cars; naked people being flogged into running in the snow; starving individuals peering at the camera with hollow eyes. One scene horrified me the most. In the corner of a warehouse the camera revealed a pile of human hair perhaps four feet deep. But then the lens slowly zoomed out to show an entire room filled with hair. How many individual human beings were sacrificed to achieve such a horror?
Later in that year, I asked a girl out to the movies. When I went to pick her up, her father greeted me at the door and reached out to shake my hand. On his forearm were tattooed numbers. I knew instantly what that meant. In the car, my date told me that her parents had survived Auschwitz.
Mr. Brooks’ drama draws the audience into rapt attention. The survivors, led by Rabbi Simon Kroeller (powerful Stephen Rockwell), meet to support one another in adjusting to American life. Gerta (the utterly compelling Allison Blaize) lives as a domestic in the home of a couple, Leo (Jon Weinberg) and Sadie (Madeleine Falk) who grieve over the death of their young son in their individual ways. Young Mordechai (Nathan Mohebbi) works in a bakery and seems to be adjusting well. But Sol (Mr. Weinberg) is a bitter, limping nihilist. The small group is enlarged when two young people, Harold (Brandon Root) and Elisa (Quinn Francis), come to the Rabbi seeking sanctuary from a man who exploits them. A San Francisco judge, Martin Levinsky (Louis A. Lotorto), supports the small group of refugees, but challenges the Rabbi’s authority, urging him to forget the past and submit to American ways. Soon the plot thickens and lurches into deep, dangerous, physical and emotional waters.
Under the keen direction of Marya Mazor, the cast is spellbinding. I especially appreciated the performances of Mr. Weinberg, who utterly transforms himself in the distinctly opposite characters of Sol and Leo, as well as that of Ms. Falk who is irritatingly brittle and haughty as Sadie, warm and loving as the spirit of the Rabbi’s dead wife Sarah, and urbane and sympathetic as Countess Minassi.
The multilevel unit set design by Yuri Okahana (with lighting by Donna Ruzika) expresses the past and present with a barbed wire fence upstage and shoes stuffed under the platform, and more in a pile up left. Costumes by Kim DeShazo support character, time and place. Dave Mickey’s sound design is subtly transparent; Patty and Gordon Brile do props; and hair and wigs are by Anthony Gagliardi.
A Splintered Soul, produced by caryn desai, is superior theatre in all aspects. It runs through November 4 at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.