Update: This show’s run has been extended through Feb. 22.
We’re all painfully familiar with the details of the Holocaust. We know that nearly six million people died as part of it. We know that many of them were starved, traumatized, and murdered in death camps. We know it is one of the most heartbreaking events in human history. So James Still’s And Then They Came For Me seeks to show us something that isn’t as obvious: that every one of those six million that died, along with the survivors, had a story. The Indiana Repertory Theatre’s current rendition of its playwright-in-residence’s most-produced play, which runs through Feb. 15, achieves that.
“It works to unthread the idea that Anne Frank is the story of the Holocaust,” says the play’s director, Courtney Sale.
And Then They Came For Me is inspired by The Diary of Anne Frank, but it doesn’t focus on her story. It recounts the Holocaust experiences of Eva Schloss, one of Anne Frank’s childhood friends, and Ed Silverberg, Anne’s first boyfriend. Before writing the play, Sale interviewed the two survivors. As the interviews play on screens placed around the stage, the actors re-create the stories in front of the audience. Often, the actors say lines along with their real-life filmed counterparts.
This is the IRT’s third production of And Then They Came For Me, following versions in 1996 and 2006. Sale says her crew wanted to integrate more multimedia in the show. The interview footage is always used in the play, but Sale uses more effects this time, including red stage lighting to represent the Nazis. Sale says her team chose a minimal set design so the play would travel easily for school visits. (The production will be shown to more than 12,000 school kids in the Indianapolis area).
Like Anne Frank, Schloss and Silverberg were young children when they experienced the Holocaust. Schloss’s family was arrested on her fifteenth birthday. IRT executive artistic director Janet Allen says the characters’ ages were considered when high-schoolers were cast in the roles of Young Eva and Ed. “This is about a child’s experience,” she says.
Young Eva and Ed are played with heartbreaking passion by Elizabeth Hutson and Joseph Mervis. Hutson, a sophomore at Crawfordsville High School, makes her IRT debut in the role. She says watching Schloss’s interview footage helped her act through Eva and better understand her thinking. “If Eva and her mom hadn’t been looking for those silver linings, they wouldn’t have survived,” Hutson says. “[The play] brings a lot of hope.”
Hutson is right: Eva and her mother were extremely lucky, as were many of the Holocaust survivors. Even though millions died, their stories survive. As Zoe Turner’s Anne Frank remarks near the end of the play, “I didn’t have children, I didn’t have grandchildren. I had a diary.”
And Then They Came For Me. Showtimes through Feb. 22. Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St. 317-635-5252. irtlive.com.