Adapted from her play “Survivors,” playwright Wendy Kout has scored a win with her no-nonsense study of people caught up in Hitler’s systematic genocide of Jews and other “undesirables.” The past is prologue – but can the lesson of history teach us important truths, or are we really doomed to repeat it? Developed and produced by the CenterStage Theatre at the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester, NEVER IS NOW asks a host of thought-provoking questions. But, perhaps more importantly, it does so through glimpses of the very personal lives of people forced to experience the events in these tumultuous times.
NEVER IS NOW tells multiple stories of individuals living during the years when Nazis held sway in much of Europe. This is the story of families torn apart, children taught to hate, parents living in fear, hunger and privation, denial of the basic necessities of life, disappearance of rights guaranteed by law – all of the things which impacted on the everyday life of millions as Hitler methodically carried his toxic ideas from country to country. “Make Germany Great Again” was his mantra – unfortunately, on the bones of millions of innocent victims.
Directed by virtuoso talents Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera, the ensemble cast (Evie Abat, Adam Foster Ballard, Eliza Blair, Michael Kaczkowski, Joey Millin, Sarah Tubert) play a variety of roles as the tale unfolds and each private story is revealed. There is the 9-year-old youngster who almost faces a firing squad when he tries to steal potatoes to feed his starving family; the little girl whose close school buddies begin to call her “the dirty Jew;” the youngster who must leave her loving family forever to join the “kinder transport;” the 18-year-old daughter of a wealthy family who ends up as a maid cleaning slop in England in order to survive; the families squashed into rail cars in the bitter cold to visit “the final solution.” The emotional impact of these stories cannot be minimized.
But NEVER IS NOW IS ALSO a play-within-a-play where actors rehearse a Holocaust play while having lives very much in the present as they ruminate and nearly come to blows over the parallels they see between the 1940’s play and their present-day world. AUDIENCE ALERT: Trump aficionados may experience some discomfort as these similarities are explored.
Caroline Andrew’s scenic design is stark: only six movable square boxes serve as the entire setting. It soon becomes clear and this is a riveting story that primarily goes on inside the head – making background superfluous. In fact, the production team has probably ascribed to the axiom that “less is more.” Despite the very simple setting, however, passions run high. As each account develops, there may not be a dry eye in the theater. Despite the grim subject matter, however, author Wendy Kout never forgets that hope makes anything possible.
NEVER IS NOW runs through October 27, 2019, with performances at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (no performance on 9/29/19). The Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 ½ North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tickets begin at $20 (discounts for seniors and students). For information and reservations, call 213-761-7061 or go online.