The Good and the True, written from authentic testimonies compiled by Tomas Hrbek, Lucie Kolouchova and Daniel Hrbek and directed by Daniel Hrbek, tells the uplifting story of two individuals born in Czechoslovakia, Hana Pravda and Milos Dobry, who suffered through the Holocaust yet remained strong within and challenged themselves to thrive afterward.
These individuals never met, never knew one another, but the production has them relate segments of their lives in parallel throughout, first one then the other and back again; the variety is compelling, our interest never flags. The events encompass their backgrounds and the impact of the rise of Nazism on their lives before and during WW II after Czechoslovakia succumbed to Hitler’s Nazi party. The effect is powerful because we understand the potent details of how this teenage boy/man and teenage girl/woman experienced and reacted to the nightmare, yet didn’t allow themselves to become as embittered as their tormentors. Instead, they remained “good” and “true,” symbolizing the best of what humanity can endure and become.
By relating their perspectives, actress Hana Marie Pravda (a fine and moving performance by granddaughter Isobel Pravda) and athlete Milos Dobry (the sardonically humorous, versatile and gifted Saul Reichlin) reveal invaluable personal accounts. They are representative of how Jewish individuals confronted the extraordinary horrors of torment and abuse by the Nazi party as the Gestapo strangled their freedoms and eventually enslaved them in concentration camps where thousands upon thousands perished.
The tragedy of the time is that all the accounts of individuals who experienced the Holocaust are worthy, but only a fraction are known because most died maintaining the secrecy of the heinous acts of murder, heinous even to the eyes of Gestapo leadership, for if the latter had believed they were justified, they would have broadcast their extermination plans throughout the world with pride. The secrecy underscores Nazi guilt, their knowledge that what they were attempting to do was wickedness incarnate. The title and the production speak volumes in emphasizing how the Nazis and their fascist intentions were the antithesis of goodness, justice and truth.
This production is in memoriam not only of the lives of Hana Pravda and Milos Dobry, but of those who died without ever telling their stories. This purpose is indicated at the very outset of the play when we hear whispered voices as the lights rise. The bare stage cleverly hints at representative locations (i.e. where the characters lived) and the events to come (their time in the camps behind barbed wire). The whispered voices evoke the memories of those who died, as if they are whispering and crying out from the past to speak; their stories have been buried by time or oblivion and may be all but forgotten, as those relatives who lived and knew them never spoke about the Holocaust and then died without having the opportunity to retell their accounts.
The production through Hrbek’s fine direction makes clear the importance of recollection. These are two individuals whose stories of Terezin and Auschwitz will be known and remembered. And for their insight, revelation, courage and inspiration the accounts of Hana Pravda and Milos Dobry brought viscerally alive by Pravda and Reichlin in sterling performances are worthy of the historical record.
That is why this production and others that highlight individual stories of the Holocaust are more important now than ever. We must continually question whether man’s inhumanity to man can ever be abated and work harder than ever to mitigate it, for surely it still exists today. In sections of Africa and the Middle East brutality is “alive and well,” and even in our American institutions the hands of cruelty leave a smear on our consciousness.
Often it is those who are “good” and “true” who suffer at the hands of evildoers whose inner mental and emotional sicknesses remove from their souls any hint of empathy and identification with their human brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, as the play suggests, such evil in the realm of history does vanish and only the accounts of those who are “the good and the true” speak from a timeless inspiration and hope that evil will be overcome and goodness and truth in fact do and will prevail.
The Good and the True is Off Broadway at the DR2 Theatre until Sunday, September 14th.