OUR CLASS Offers Interesting Look at History

by Walter Bender

The cast of OUR CLASS running at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia PA through November 13. (Photo credit: Alexander Iziliaev)

The Wilma Theater opens its 2011-2012 season with OUR CLASS, an historical “memory play” by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, English version by Ryan Craig. Director Blanka Zizka was well prepared to direct this piece. In June of this year she traveled to Poland, interviewed the playwright and visited the town of Jedwabne, where the story in the play takes place. She has written about her journey, which can be read at www.wilmatheater.org.

The story of OUR CLASS covers a period from 1926 through 2003 in the lives of a class of ten people, five Catholic and 5 Jewish, who lived in the town of Jedwabne. In July of 1941, the Jewish residents of Jedwabne were brutally murdered. For decades the deaths were attributed to German troops, but in 2001 a book by Jan Gross, Neighbors, uncovered the truth…the massacre was perpetrated by Poles. OUR CLASS covers the period leading up to the Jedwabne massacre and how the group of classmates were affected for the remainder of their lives. The show explores not only the events, but how and why they occurred in the imagined words of those who were there.

The performances by this cast were very strong. The ensemble (Krista Apple, Ross Beschler, Kate Czajkowski, Dan Hodge, Emille Krause, Kevin Meehan, Allen Radway, Michael Rubenfeld, Matteo Scammell and Ed Swidey) handled the material very skillfully, telling the stories of each of the characters, sometimes “reliving” the experiences. It was easy to get lost in their stories, believing each of the actors actually was the character they were portraying. The subtlety of their interactions was very believable. The set and lighting were stark and functional…lighting was at times done by flourescent area lights, giving a very colorless look to the set and actors, accentuating the vision of Ms. Zizka, which came from a line in a book from writer Hanna Krall, describing a trip to Poland…”From unlamented specters there is such a grayness.”

Warning to those who attend…the play runs almost 3 hours, with one intermission. The story is mainly told via expository speeches, with very little action. I think that perhaps a subsequent version of this play might be enhanced by trimming some of the material, although I must say that I would not know where to trim it. Some in the audience, however, found the play to be a bit over-long. I overheard a couple admitting that they almost dozed off in the second act, yet this same couple were among the majority who rose at the end to give this talented cast a standing ovation.

Overall, this is a very intense production…the story is at times shocking and very moving. It will surely inspire discussion as you leave the theater. Congratulations to Blanka Zizka and the cast, crew and support staff at the Wilma for a wonderful start to their season.

Written by Tadeusz Slobodzianek
English Version by Ryan Craig
Directed by Blanka Zizka
October 12-November 13, 2011
Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 893-9456

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