Holocaust drama, ‘The Interview,’ takes the stage this weekend

FutureFest winner will be presented Sept. 18 at Beth Jacob Synagogue.

When Helen Halcomb was a little girl, she sensed there were certain questions that were never to be asked in her home and certain subjects that were never to be broached.

“You didn’t want to upset your parents,” says Halcomb, a child of Holocaust survivors. She eventually learned that her father had been in a number of Nazi death camps and then on a death march when the Nazis began evacuating the camps. “The majority of his family was eliminated,” she says. “That’s a hard life to relive years later when you want to get past all that and live your life and provide for your family. They didn’t know how to communicate.”

Her friend, Helene Gordon also grew up in Dayton as the child of survivors. In 2020, Gordon told her friend about a moving play she’d seen at the Actor’s Theatre of Fairborn that dealt with a subject that touched them both. When they heard the Jewish Federation of Dayton was offering Innovation Grants for interesting new projects, they decided to apply for a grant with the hope of bringing the play and its author to their synagogue. Both women are active board members of the religious institution.

Their grant was approved and as a result, “The Interview” will be presented free of charge to the community on Sunday, Sept. 18 at Beth Jacob Synagogue. Coincidentally, the Holocaust-themed play is being staged on the same day the new Ken Burns documentary – ”The U.S. and the Holocaust” – premieres on PBS.

The play, which won the Dayton Playhouse FutureFest top award in 1997, also took top honors in two other national new play contests and won a coveted Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence grant. It’s featured in Gene A. Plunka’s book “Holocaust Theatre: Dramatizing Survivor Trauma and its Effects on the Second Generation.” The play has been performed more than three dozen times around the U.S. since its 1997 premiere in Dayton.

Playwright Faye Sholiton, a stage and screenwriter from Cleveland, is the founder and artistic director of Interplay Jewish Theatre. She’ll come to Dayton to lead a discussion after the Sunday afternoon performance.

About the play

The drama centers around 69-year old Bracha who is suffering the aftermath of an old trauma 50 years after her liberation from Nazi death camps. When she allows the child of other survivors into her suburban Cleveland home to take testimony for an archival video project, Bracha reviews the legacy she has left her own daughter.

Sholiton says her play is more than a Holocaust story – it’s a story about mothers, daughters and memory – about forgiving and being forgiven.

The seeds of her play can be traced back to Sholiton’s own history: 30 years of interviewing and interacting with Holocaust survivors. For the first 10 years she worked as a reporter for the Cleveland Jewish News, penning stories about survivors who were revisiting their home countries. When film director Steven Spielberg founded a non-profit organization dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, Sholiton began conducting interviews for the USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education.

“The first two people I spoke with were children who were estranged from their parents,” Sholiton remembers. “I thought the first one was an exception but when it happened twice early on, it was heartbreaking for me.” The play provided an opportunity to explore what might have happened to cause that kind of rift.

Sholiton says one of the things she’s been most grateful for in her life has been the opportunity to interview Holocaust survivors. “They were always a challenge and they were work, but I think it’s such a rare opportunity to get these stories down on tape, preserve them, share them with their families and in archives where people can visit and hear these stories. How many family stories were lost? "

The new production

Brian Sharp, who has directed more than 30 theatrical productions in the community in a wide variety of venues, says his challenge is to make sure the play “stays real” and doesn’t become overly dramatic. “The script is so moving and well written that the actors don’t have to create more drama than what’s written on the page,” he explains. “The challenge is making sure it stays real, relevant and appropriate. Directing it inside a synagogue sanctuary brings on the same challenge. It makes it even more moving and we want to be respectful of the space.”

Sharp, who also directed the Fairborn production of the play, remembers seeing it first as an audience member 25 years ago at FutureFest. “You anticipate the issues with Bracha and her daughter,” he recalls, “but as you go through it, you realize the interviewer, Ann, is facing the same issues.”

He’s hoping there will be two important take-aways for his Sept. 18th audiences: remembering the impact of this atrocity and understanding the power of healing in relationships.

Seasoned community theater actor Pam McGinnis, who first brought Bracha to life in the Fairborn production, will again play the leading role. While McGinnis is honored and excited to recreate the part, she admits she’s a bit nervous since this audience is likely to include families of Holocaust survivors.

She describes Bracha as a woman who feels the need to come across as unflappable but also has a sense of humor and a softer side. “The elephant in the room is her estranged daughter who she hasn’t spoken to in 12 years,” says McGinnis. “Although the character of Ann is supposed to be interviewing Bracha, the show morphs into something else where the tables are turned and Bracha is interviewing Ann.”

McGinnis says she can personally relate to the character on many levels. “I lost a son and so did Bracha,” she explains. “This is a play about family secrets that any family might have and just doesn’t talk about and the effect that can have on the next generation. It could be suicide, mental illness, drug addiction.”

Other members of the cast include Jenny Westfall as Ann; Shana Fishbein as Rivka and Patrick Comunale as Chris.

Halcomb, who has been a member of the Jewish Federation’s Holocaust Memorial committee for decades, is concerned about the “huge amount of prejudice in the world right now. Any education will help minimize it. We need to work on that.”

She’s hoping her synagogue’s presentation of “The Interview” is a step in that direction. “This is an important and entertaining way to educate people about the Holocaust.”

HOW TO GO:

What: “The Interview” by Faye Sholiton, 1997 winner of the Dayton Playhouse’s annual FutureFest

When: 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18

Where: Beth Jacob Synagogue, 7020 N. Main St., Dayton

Admission: Free. You’re asked to RSVP to 937-274-2149

Related programming:

  • Playwright Faye Sholiton will lead a discussion about the play following the 2:30 p.m. performance.
  • More than 3,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors can be viewed through the Shoah Foundation: https://sfi.usc.edu
  • “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” the new Ken Burns documentary, is a three-part six hour documentary that will premiere on PBS stations at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18.

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