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Nicholas Tolkien's new play presents the terrible story of the Nazis' propaganda camp by focusing on a few characters on both sides.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Terezin’ by Nicholas Tolkien

The story of Terezín will always bear telling and retelling. Thousands of Holocaust victims passed through the Nazis’ “model camp,” also known as Theresienstadt, a place created to fool the Red Cross and the world into thinking the perpetrators of the Final Solution were treating their displaced Jews well.

Nicholas Tolkien’s new play Terezin presents this terrible chapter by focusing on a few characters on both sides. Two orphaned Jewish girls form such a close bond in the camp that they come to think of themselves as sisters. A conflicted commandante’s frustrated musical ambitions intersect with the fate of one of the girls, while his pacifist architect son Eric is drawn against his will into the nightmarish deception.

Sasha K. Gordon, Natasha Petrovic, Sam Gibbs, and Blake Lewis in 'Terezin,' photo by Carol Rosegg
Sasha K. Gordon, Natasha Petrovic, Sam Gibbs, and Blake Lewis in ‘Terezin.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg

Sasha K. Gordon and Natasa Petrovic turn in sinewy performances as the two girls, Violet and Alexi, respectively. Michael Leigh Cook has powerful scenes as the commandante, and Blake Lewis is intensely real as a sadistically evil Nazi officer. Yet throughout the first act, the production careens between sequences of compelling emotion and awkwardly paced, ineffective scenes. The stylized delivery and dialogue and symbolic imagery, intermittently touching and powerful, are too often overwrought, and at times confusing. Despite the horrific story, powerful performances, and evocative music and sound by Katy Jarzebowski, there’s a hollowness to the production, as if it were a puppet show staged for children.

Certain scenes hit home. The girls identify goldfish in a bowl as the reincarnations of their murdered parents. Later they’re forced to frolic in a swimming pool for a propaganda film, after which Alexi delivers a raw, defiant j’accuse monologue. A visitation by the silent shade of Eric’s slain Jewish daughter (Morgan Reichberg) is staged with visceral power.

But dramatic staging isn’t enough to make us care about the commandante’s troubled conscience, his murderous relationship with Eric and his family, or Eric’s attempt to rescue Violet. The play is a worthwhile reminder of the deceptive lengths regimes will go to further their deadly purposes. Yet in the end, despite all the hustle and ado Tolkien and his cast and creative team marshall, these people’s lives, conflicts, and deaths escape too readily into the air, like dust in the footlights.

Terezin runs through July 2 at the Peter J. Sharp Theatre, NYC. For schedule and tickets please visit the play’s website.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.

Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.

Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he’s a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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