by Elizabeth Ann Foster
“I come from, well it doesn’t matter, the town doesn’t even exist anymore in Russia,” says Igor Golyak, the director of Witness, “and if we can’t feel safe in
America, where are we to go – what is next? Assimilation?” What Golyak does not say is haunting; the silence during a talkback after the show — what is not said lingers in consciousness when the interview concludes.
This theatric performance is like no other. Most of us loathe virtual anything after two-plus years of it – we want to restore safe, live theater interaction. Remarkably, Witness has discovered how to recapture the excitement of live theater and bring us what we need through remote media. Although it can only be seen on a computer virtually, it is not the staid zoom call for those of you zoomed out. The actors are filmed live on stage and interact as and with comic book characters and ghostly figures. We see splendid animation and interaction with the set. It’s engaging, meaningful, and timely.
Golyak describes the production as 3D – live, virtual, and documentary all at once. Other benefits from a hybrid remote interactive venue in the world of Covid are a definite opening, run dates, and closing. No rebooking of tickets is required. This venue represents an apotheosis in the evolution of “distance theater.” It is a masterpiece of film, music, drama, visual art, multi-media, and live, interactive art.
Play producers instructed the audience to bring their favorite cocktail or champagne and share the excitement of a beautiful voyage. The play follows the journey of the ship MS St. Louis carrying a few more than 900 Jews from
Hamburg, Germany, to Cuba. They managed to escape the ghettos, concentration camps, and other persecutions of Nazi Germany of the 1930s. They board the ship carrying their hopes and fears, only to be turned away at their destination. What is there to toast about here?
Excitement. A new country, a new beginning. Events onboard the ship are recreated, including a talent show billed as “The Jews on The Move.” We, the audience vote on a winner of several original and clever acts that, while entertaining, touch on the tragedy of the holocaust. Lady Liberty (Darya Denisova) picks a ball out of the hopper to announce a number for the next performer like a lottery. Denisova announces, “29,444. That number is assigned to you by the United States Government. The refugee quota is approximately 27,000 people a year. Which is to say, the owner of this number will be waiting for (pause) a long time.”
The show Emcee (Gene Ravvin) is suave, sophisticated, and urbane, but as he deftly introduces the players in the talent show acts, unease and poignancy emerge when we note the imagery of ghostly figures in the cabaret. The more we enjoy what we see and hear in what appears initially to be lighthearted, the more we experience heartbreak in this nightmare landscape of gallows humor. You are kept busy
clicking on links to people who were on the ship and the actors playing them; tabs bring viewers to biographic profiles about the people portrayed in the show. Masterfully, the story’s poignancy is exponentially enriched and personalized by learning about the actors – from where they were ejected and where they landed or live today. You see, the story continued until the present day. One typically only thinks of Germany and WWII as the time of the holocaust, but Jews have been unwelcome nearly worldwide for millennia. Alas, it continues.
What is the future of the Jewish people?
“It is easy to feel sorry for us once we are dead. Try talking to us while we are still alive,” said Golyak.
This piece really gets you thinking, is entertaining, and can be experienced on many levels. It artfully weaves in modern politics by quoting members of the “squad” in today’s US Congress to show how history repeats itself. But the
patterns are left for you to decipher as they are never spoken aloud.
It’s recommended to experience this at least twice, once so that you can push and read all the tabs, and another to just soak it all in.
Witness By Nana Grinstein with Blair Cadden and Igor Golyak
With: Gene Ravvin (Emcee) and Darya Denisova (Lady Liberty). The Arlekin’s Resident Acting Company.
Produced by Sara Stackhouse; sound design by Viktor Semenov; virtual design by Daniel Cormino: Hair and makeup by Anna Furhman; director of photography Anton Nikolaev; technical director Johan Folke; props by Irina Vilenchik; puppetry by Evgeniy Ibragimov. With Blair Cadden and Igor Golyak
Each performance includes a post-show talkback with the cast and creative team members.
January 14-23, 2022, as follows:
Friday, January 14 at 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, January 15 at 7:30 pm ET
Sunday, January 16 at 3 pm ET
Sunday, January 16 at 7:30 pm ET
Friday, January 21 at 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, January 22 at 7:30 pm ET
Sunday, January 23 at 1 pm ET
Sunday, January 23 at 5 pm ET
Run time 90 minutes with a 30-minute talk back. Parental guidance under the age of 12 is recommended. Tickets are $12-$45, and several nights are sold out. You can purchase tickets on their website https://live.zerogravity.art.