937 at the Atlantic Fringe Festival


Directed by Ken Schwartz.
Stage Managed by Cat MacKeigan
Performed at the Atlantic Fringe Festival

Review by Martin Wallace

In the mid-to-late 20th century, narrative art became largely fragmented, symbolic. This was in large part a reaction to the horrors of WWII. Faced with the reality of the Holocaust, how could we now trust the old tired narratives of reason and civilization? How could we tell the truth about the suffering of the Jewish people under the Nazi regime without cheapening it, turning it into yet another cathartic story? How could we, in the now clich├ęd phrase, “represent the unrepresentable”?

937 is the number of Jewish refugees that fled the Nazi Regime in 1939 aboard the St. Louis. The ship stopped at various ports (including, to our shame, Halifax) only to be turned away, the refugees eventually sent back to Germany to suffer the full brunt of Hitler’s Final Solution.  

937, originally created at Two Planks and a Passion theatre, relays this historical truth through the experience of a Jewish family. The story is not told through dialogue (except for some music and a recording of Hitler giving a speech, the play is silent) or contrived dramatic arcs. The actors don’t play characters, but rather stand behind and manipulate suits of clothes (taken, in an example of the play’s stark and precise symbolism, from a metal travelling trunk).   This choice makes the play at once specific and universal; refused the comfort of historical distance, unable to distract ourselves by focusing on an actor’s quirks, we’re there at the heart of things: feeling the pang of a child’s aching disappointment through the drop of a sleeve, a father’s stoic cheer in the twirling of a gloved finger, tragic absurdity in the sight of a succession of flags being waved and then discarded. How is rejection better conveyed than through a metal gate constantly moved to block passage? Or pain, than by the drawing of a Star of David upon a coat?

This is, I want to say, how it should be done.

Attend the last Atlantic Fringe Festival performance of 937, today (Sept. 7) at 5pm.

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