Holocaust stories remind us of the cataclysmic changes in the European Jewish community wrought by the terrorism of Hitler’s Third Reich. These large, tragic stories meant millions of lives lost, families destroyed, and a promised land envisioned.
A Splintered Soul, the new play that Arla Productions is staging at Stage 773, is a different story, about individual Jews who lost their families but managed to survive concentration camps and emigrate to the U.S. They now suffer from survivor’s guilt and other emotional trauma. A Splintered Soul, by Alan Lester Brooks, is about Polish Jews in 1947 San Francisco inspired by their rabbi, Simon Kroeller, a freedom fighter during the war. Craig Spidle performs this role in a warm and caring way, always listening to the voice of his late wife Sarah advising and warning him.
Simon meets with the survivors in a small group to help them deal with their past. Gerta (Eliza Stoughton), Mordechi (Nik Kourtis) and Sol (Matt Mueller), each have their own ghastly memories of their experiences in wartorn Poland. They did what was necessary to survive and now live with their guilt. Sol was an ironsmith at Treblinka; he made the doors that sealed the gas chambers. Mordechi was protected by a homosexual camp officer. Gerta, who now works for an American Jewish family, used her beauty to survive the camp.
An American Jew, Judge Martin Levinsky (Dev Kennedy), lost family members in the camps. He’s a friend and adviser to the rabbi. The judge warns the rabbi that the local Jewish community believes he is agitating trouble in his meetings by continually dredging up memories. The rabbi argues that it’s better not to keep the memories hidden.
SIMON: If you have a splinter in your finger and it gets infected and festers, then you need to get it out, yes?
JUDGE : This is not a splinter we’re talking about.
SIMON : Oh no? Think of these memories as sharp slivers imbedded in the soul.
The rest of the play is a melodrama with many plot twists and turns, some imaginative, some absurd, like an unlikely violent act by the rabbi.
Keira Fromm directs a talented cast with care and sympathy, despite the plot’s weaknesses. The 135-minute play is set mainly in the rabbi’s comfortable home with a backdrop of his large library. Brian Sidney Bembridge gets credit for the scene design and lighting, while the original musical score and sound design are created by Christopher Kriz. Costumes are by Mieka van der Ploeg.
A Splintered Soul continues at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, through May 29 with performances Thursday-Sunday. Tickets for $36 (some discounts available) can be bought online or by calling 773-327-5252.