The darkest side of humanity and the power of faith are on display at the Wilma Theater, which opens its season with the U.S. premiere of Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s Our Class.
Inspired by Jan T. Gross’ book Neighbors and based on real events in the village of Jedwabne in rural Poland, the story (Ryan Craig wrote the English version) focuses on five Jewish and five Catholic classmates. We first encounter the group as youngsters and friends, but the innocence is short-lived. As the students grow into young adults and Poland is occupied first by the Soviets and then the Germans, the friendships become increasingly strained and soon broken. Catholics turn on their Jewish friends and neighbors with horrifying consequences.
In Director Blanka Zizka’s starkly brutal, unflinching production, all of this is both sickening and scary as hell. And that’s just the first act.
Performed on a stage adorned only with the trunks of dead trees, scattered chairs and a structure that looks like a greenhouse but is utilized for a very different purpose, Zizka fashions a world that is both surreal and frighteningly familiar.
What’s more disturbing is that the murdered are not buried and forgotten. Instead, in Zizka’s visceral, magnificently physical and remarkably well-acted production, the deceased never retreat from sight. They remain on stage with the living, haunting the minds of their killers—the people who now occupy their homes and sleep in their beds.
What makes Our Class so frightening is that the perpretrators are so ordinary. Yet as disturbing as the events in the play are, it concludes with a roll call of the living, reminding us that life, however tragic it may be, is a gift to be treasured.
Through Nov. 13. $23-$56. Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. wilmatheater.org
The Barrymore Awards aren’t ballyhoo