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Humanity, Its Horrors and Graces

April 8, 2013

ourclass_showpageThis past weekend I had the privilege to attend the West Coast premiere of Our Class (By Tadeusz Stobodzianek, adapted by Ryan Craig) as performed by the Son of Semele Ensemble. A performance so powerful that the audience and cast were shaken to their core. Some including myself could not help but cry afterwards.

A brief background on Jedwabne, Poland and the pogrom (a mob that generally goes after Jews) that inspired this moving story. In 1930s’ Europe things were in constant flux; leaderships and alliances alike were shifting constantly. In the late 30s Marshal Pilsudski, an important figure in Poland dies. Shortly thereafter the Soviet occupation of Poland begins. In ’39 Hitler invades Poland wrestling control from Stalin and the Soviets. It is here that the main calamity of Our Class occurs. Though the event’s flash point is still debated the resulting tragedy would forever change that small town. Hundreds of Jewish villagers were rounded up, beaten or burned alive by their neighbors. Jedwabne would spend the rest of the war under German occupation. At the conclusion of the war Poland becomes enveloped by the Iron Curtain.

SONY DSCOur Class follows the story of ten classmates: five Jewish and five Catholic. From the time of the Marshall’s death through World War II. Finally coming to a close in 2001. The central theme throughout is humanity. There are no heroes nor true villains (though Zygmunt (Dan Via) comes close), just humans living through perhaps the most difficult time in history. While the 1941 pogrom serves as the central event, the story instead focuses on the characters. How do they continue living with themselves after that dark night, whether they be perpetrators, or victims?

Our Class is performed “theater in the round”. This serves to add a layer of interconnectivity amplified by individual performances. The characters spread out across the years and world they maintain a connection with one another through shared events, echoed by the “theater in the round”. As the scenes shift participants in the previous scene move to minimalistic tasks. Maintaining a shadow of presence. This serves to remind the characters and audience there is a much larger picture. The effect is enhanced as characters who die remain on stage as spirits watching their classmates.

As I have already said Our Class is about humanity. It is about how Wladek (Alexander Wells) lives with the guilt of having killed his classmate. How he stands up to his mother and marries a Jewish woman to save her life. How Dora (Sharyn Gabriel) has the misfortune of feeling pleasure during the worst thing that could happen to woman. Zocha (Melina Bielefelt) deals with the anguish of being cast aside by the man she risked her life to save; only to have her future husband hate her for having done the right thing. How Menachem (Kiff Scholl) never lives to see justice served for the rape and death of his wife. As well as the death of his infant son, later echoed by the death of his second son; 30 years to the day after the pogrom. It seems there is more humanity on stage: pain, joy, kinship, sorrow, guilt, redemption; than many of us will know in a lifetime. I will leave the remaining emotions and humanities for you to enjoy when you see Our Class for yourself.

Thematically Our Class was astonishing. Matthew McCray (Director) took the darkest and brightest colors of emotion and painted a beautiful picture. Our Class is not about justice, or blaming. It is about showing in the core of every tragedy there are humans not monsters. Our sense of morality screams for justice, yet our humanity understands that in a world of humans justice is not always possible. Actions cannot be forgiven or condoned, but they can be understood. Our Class helps us understand one of the most difficult lessons. The world isn’t always a happy place, but life goes on.


Our Class runs through April. Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 p.m., Sundays @ 3 p.m., as well as Monday 15th & 22nd @ 7 p.m.

Our Class Written by Tadeusz Stobodzianek, adapted by Ryan Craig. Directed by Matthew McCray.

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All Photos Credit Kim Chueh

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