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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hope, Tolerance & Multicultural Cast: JCTC Gives New Relevance to Anne Frank’s Story



Anne Frank’s diary, filled with hope against inescapable oppression, has captivated audiences around the world for well over half a century. Audiences will discover a new relevance to this well-known story of the 15-year-old girl who died a victim of genocide when Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents And Then They Came For Me: Remembering The World Of Anne Frank by Jim Still. The JCTC production of this acclaimed play features a multicultural cast, a world-renowned guest speaker and an exhibit of visual arts on themes of oppression and the Holocaust in the Merseles Studios art gallery.

And Then They Came for Me: Remembering The World Of Anne Frank opens Tuesday, November 15-19 at Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07302. 11/15-11/18 Doors Open at 6:00; Performances at 7:00; Saturday, 11/19, there are two shows: 3:00pm (doors open: 2:30) and 8:00pm (doors open: 7:00). All shows are followed by Talk-Back, a dialogue and Q&A with Anne’s Frank’s step-sister Eva Schloss, cast and director.

And Then They Came For Me: Remembering The World Of Anne Frank will be also be presented Sunday, 11/20, 2 pm and Monday, 11/21 7 pm, at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC (>mjhnyc.org)

Eva Schloss, Holocaust educator and author who has lectured on issues of oppression and genocide around the world and at the United Nations, will participate in Talk-Backs on 11/17, 11/18, 11/19, 11/20 and 11/21. Schloss, now 87 years-old, the step-daughter of Otto Frank and posthumous step-sister of Anne Frank, is a character in the play and among the last Auschwitz survivors able to serve as a witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“I am delighted that for the 20th anniversary of the play And Then They Came For Me: Remembering The World Of Anne Frank the original director has decided to stage the play again,” said Schloss. “It is especially of importance now as times remind one of the 1930s when millions of refugees were also trying unsuccessfully to find shelter in safe countries.”

JCTC’s presentation of And They Came For Me is directed by Susan Kerner and performed by Normal Avenue Productions, a theater company founded by graduates of the BFA Acting and Musical Theatre programs at Montclair State University. The play – written by James Still with music composed by Scott Killian – was commissioned to meet a NJ state mandate on Holocaust education 20 years ago. Kerner was the original director of the play, first presented at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick in 1996.

The JCTC production features a multicultural cast and is the first time in more than a decade that Kerner has directed the play. She directed numerous And Then They Came For Me productions in the United States and Great Britain, but now productions by other directors far outnumber the shows she’s helmed. Kerner estimates that over 50 productions of the play by different ensembles – theater companies and school groups – are presented each year around the world.

Not only is the JCTC production the first known production in Jersey City of the acclaimed theater work director Kerner helped originate, it will also feature a multicultural cast, underscoring the fact intolerance and oppression is exclusive to no one culture or ethnic group.

Because the play continues to be produced in various incarnations, Kerner, a theatre director and educator with 40 years experience both here and abroad and currently a professor at Montclair State University, Department of Theatre and Dance, is reluctant to call the JCTC production a revival. Her decision to again direct the play was inspired by the often disturbing and heated rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees that was heard during the recent U.S. presidential election.

“There was so much anti-immigrant talk at the same time the Syrian refugee crisis was taking place here and in Europe that I really felt it was time to direct this play again, because the messages and themes of this play are not just specific to one historical period,” said Kerner. “We need to hear the brave stories of hope against all odds as we lose a generation of Holocaust survivors, as killings of innocents remain rampant in our world, as refugees flee racial and religious violence in their countries, and as hate speech propagated by politicians at home and abroad is tolerated once again.”

The universality of the message will be highlighted by the multicultural cast Kerner brings to the Merseles Studios black box theater. Even in its earliest incarnation, And Then They Came for Me featured an ethnically diverse cast, but Kerner believes the current cast –which includes actors who are African-American, Latino and Iranian –will be the most diverse she ever directed in the play.

“Because the play resonates with today’s time, I wanted to expand the diversity of the cast because it is really not about one ethnic group,” said Kerner. “Eva also loves to see actors from different ethnic groups playing the different characters. The play speaks to all of us, all groups, and having a diverse cast helps achieve that goal.”

Beginning with the original memoir, and through the subsequent films and plays, The Diary of Anne Frank is beloved by millions for its timeless message of hope while struggling against oppression. And They Came for Me depicts the personal story of two teen-age friends of Anne Frank – Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg – who survived the Holocaust. The play takes place in Europe, 1938-1945, and while the story is one of historical suffering and murder, the messages of hope and survival are genuine, timeless and never more relevant than now.

“The play touched me very personally,” said Olga Levina, Artistic Director, JCTC. Levina grew up in in Belarus and her family was impacted by World War II. “The play is related to what is going on today, with refugees here and in Europe who are being turned away or subject to hate speech and intolerance. It’s an incredibly important topic and the question of how we should respond to atrocities really makes a relevant connection between history and what is happening today.”

And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank will be accompanied by a special art show in the art gallery at Merseles Studios. Curated by Lucy Rovetto, Visual Arts Coordinator, JCTC, the exhibition includes Open Borders, a photographic series portraying Syrian refugee camps near Athens, Greece, by Jenny Brover, a fine art/documentary photographer; Holocaust themed sculpture, paintings and prints by Grigory Gurevich, a Russian emigre whose family suffered during the Nazi invasion and Plumes –pages of poetry about gender oppression by My Inside, a local poet and artist.

All three artists in the exhibition are Jersey City residents. In addition, The Jersey City Vigil for Refugees, a volunteer, grass-roots. organization dedication to aiding the resettlement effort of recent refugees, will have a table and be a Talk-Back participant for And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. Brover is a founder of the organization.

And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank by James Still is directed by Susan Kerner. Cast includes: Jeremy Landes; Lee Cohen; Paige Sciarrino; Esteban Carmona; Virginia Vass; Aryana Sedarati; and Elena Barone. (>normalaveproductions.com).

“It is an honor to host Eva Schloss, who is coming to Jersey City for this production,” said Levina. “I feel this is an important play to bring to Jersey City audiences, especially after this election. Jersey City has one of the most diverse communities in the country and it is important to support tolerance and being inclusive, and to learn more about understanding each other and accepting our differences with peace and mutual respect.”

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