Thomas Lee Ewen and Grace Off erdahl rehearse a scene from “A Light in the Darkness” at Victorian Players Theater.
IF YOU GO
What: World premiere of “A Light in the Darkness: A Story of Hope During the Holocaust”
When: Weekends Friday through Oct. 30. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. There also will be a matinee Oct. 22.
Where: Victorian Players Theater, 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown
Tickets: $10 ($8 for students and seniors); call 330-746-5455
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss will be in the audience Friday night for the world premiere of a play based on her life.
Schloss, who lives in London, was a prisoner of the Nazis for nine months at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. She is traveling to Youngstown this weekend to attend the premiere of “A Light in the Darkness: A Story of Hope During the Holocaust” at The Victorian Players Theater, where the drama will run for three weekends.
“A Light in the Darkness” was written by J.E. Ballantyne Jr., who also directs. It is based on “The Promise,” which Schloss co-wrote with Barbara Powers, and it details her experiences during World War II, as Hitler’s army swept across Europe and imprisoned her family. Schloss, incidentally, is the stepsister of Anne Frank. She and her family hid for two years before being captured by the Nazis when she was 15.
“It’s a real powerful piece,” said Ballantyne.
Most of the action takes place in Auschwitz after Schloss and her family were captured.
The sets and lighting have been kept simple and sparse to suit the mood of the play but also so that the play can be performed at theaters anywhere, said Ballantyne.
Schloss herself is the narrator, albeit on a recording. “Her voice will now always be part of the show,” said Ballantyne.
The play closely follows the book and dramatizes many of the incidents it contains. To fill in gaps in the action on stage, Ballantyne created a multimedia presentation that includes photos of Schloss, her family and other war pictures, all set to music.
“A Light in the Darkness,” which is just under two hours long, is not Ballantyne’s first foray into the Holocaust. His play “Block 5,” which he also wrote and directed, premiered in 2005 and was revived a couple of years ago at The Victorian. Schloss also came to that world premiere.
The seeds of the stage adaptation of “The Promise” took root three years ago when Schloss and Ballantyne were at a reception at the home of Bruce Zoldan in the Youngstown area.
“She handed me [a copy of ‘The Promise’] and said, ‘Here, perhaps you can do something with this as a stage play,’” said Ballantyne.
Five rewrites later, and the script is ready for the stage. Schloss gave her approval to the final draft, said Ballantyne.
Schloss will attend the first six performances of the play, over the first two weekends. A special post-play Downstage Dialogue session will immediately follow each performance, at which Schloss, Ballantyne and the actors will discuss the work with the audience.
Schloss has made it her life’s mission to educate people about the Holocaust and is making several appearances during her stay in Youngstown. Autographed copies of her book, “The Promise,” will be for sale at the theater.
The premiere run of “A Light in the Darkness” at the Vic could just be the beginning of the play’s life. Ballantyne said he has received inquiries for the script from theaters in the United States and abroad.
Running concurrently with the play at the Victorian will be an exhibition of paintings created by Schloss’ brother, Heinz, while he was in hiding during the war. Heinz hid the paintings before he was captured by the Nazis.
The cast of “A Light in the Darkness” includes Grace Offerdahl as Schloss; Barbara Malizia as her mother; Thomas Lee Ewen as her father; and Dylan White as Heinz.
In addition to Ballantyne, the production team includes Marilyn Higgins, Marlene Strollo and Molly Galano.
On Sept. 19, Schloss was honored with the Women of Vision Award, which recognizes inspirational and enterprising women, in a Sept. 19 ceremony in New York City.
After her stay in Youngstown, she will go to Pittsburgh where she will speak at Penn Hills High School in a video conference with seven other schools.