Theater

Review: Passionate, relevant storytelling in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'The Book of Joseph'

Production a living, breathing symbol of the need to learn from history

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

Many poems, books, movies and plays have been written about the Holocaust. It is a moment of history from which we hopefully have learned many things. Because of the volume of material, it is difficult to stand apart from the crowd, and Chicago Shakespeare’s production of “The Book of Joseph” does just that. Watching the production, you find yourself not moving a muscle as your eyes and ears remain glued to the stage.

Under the thoughtful direction of Barbara Gaines, the cast and everything about the production draw audience members into the show within a show. The initial plot device of having actor Francis Guinan pose as an author is so well tucked into the story that, at first, the audience is taken off-guard. Those watching question whether they actually are listening to Richard Hollander himself. The colloquial nature of his characterization is so credible that, once the lights begin to slowly dim, it is a slow burn and realization we are watching an actor at his craft. By that time, the web is spun, and we slowly are drifted into his world of storytelling.

The relationship between Richard and his son Craig (portrayed by Adam Wesley Brown) is very credible to anyone who has been a parent in modern times.

The cast is beyond superb. The delivery of the well-crafted dialogue is a dichotomy of past and present. Glynis Bell is a stand-out with her portrayal of an aristocrat in denial. The descent of those who remained behind and the story of censorship, segregation on both sides of the ocean and prejudice is an oddly timely tale given recent events. Young passionate activists of all ages should witness this portrayal, which is a living, breathing symbol of why we can learn from history.

The technical aspect of the show becomes another player in our midst. The projections of the degradation of an upper class Krakov pied a terre to the tattered ghetto evoke the tragic nature of the path. The actual newsreels are terrifying. Using the suitcases to show the constant movement of the oppressed is a good visual tool. The lighting of Joseph Hollander (well played by Sean Fortunato) in various stages of happiness and despair particularly is dramatic and well done.

If you love history and words, or if you are passionate about what is going on in the world around us now, this is a must-see show.

• Mary Beth Euker is a co-founder of Cricket Theatre Company in Lake Zurich and has been in several local community theater productions in Woodstock and Skokie.

“THE BOOK OF JOSEPH”

WHEN: Through March 5

WHERE: Upstairs Theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

COST & INFO: Every family has secrets. The Hollander family’s spanned three generations and two continents, from World War II Poland to present-day America, all locked in a suitcase in Joseph Hollander’s attic. When his son, Richard, uncovered the suitcase, he found more than just Swastika-stamped letters and legal documents – he found a family he never met and a father’s legacy that was never mentioned. Tickets: $38 to $58. Tickets and information: www.chicagoshakes.com or 312-595-5600.

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