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By Tim Moore
Special to The PREVIEW
Thingamajig Theatre Company opens “Hidden: Stories from the Dutch Resistance” on May 10.
A beautiful piece — that director Laura Moore is not hesitating to call her favorite drama of all time — was written by the same Colorado locals (Christopher Willard and Jamie Bruss) that put “The Accounting Division of Dynacorp Presents the Office Space: The Musical” down on paper. Willard who starred in Thingamajig’s first production of “Fully Committed,” and Bruss, a professor of writing and literature at Pueblo Community College, have masterfully woven together seven lives all based on true stories from the underground resistance during the Holocaust to create a thought provoking inspiring piece about the human spirit and the difficult situations that bring out their true nature.
“Hidden” features a talented cast of actors. Hayley Hudson, Kenneth Breece, Bonnie Hite, and director Laura Moore are familiar faces with local audiences. Wade Wood, former owner of the Denver Victorian Theatre makes his Thingamajig debut; and Pamela Chabora off her national tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” was so compelled by the play, she’s made special arrangement to join the cast in between her very busy schedule of commitments.
People admittedly tend to shy away from theatrical pieces that might be sad or depressing and one that takes place during the Holocaust would seem that exact sort of play that they might be hesitant to journey though.
However, as playwright Willard points out, “This is a unique perspective on the subject matter — less of a holocaust story and more a story about survival. It’s a very hopeful story, moving, and asks difficult questions about who we are as a people, what makes us moral, and why we do the things we do.”
Director Moore says, “It is probably the most uplifting story of that time that I have ever come across. It gives me hope that during that difficult time, I would have been able to find strength in myself to have made a difference. We have heard the quote, ‘First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew …’ This play celebrates those that quietly and secretly rebelled though on the surface it may have seemed like they were letting the madness take over the world while they did nothing. But they did speak out and they did stand up in the most effective way that they knew how.”
Below are some questions that Moore asked Willard as she was getting ready to direct the piece:
What inspired the idea for the play?
“I had read several articles about the rescuers of Jews during the occupation of Europe. I found their stories gripping and very emotional. I wanted to create a theatre experience told from the perspective of the occupied, who were put in a position of survival – and at the same time, given the opportunity to discover the true nature of their individual character.”
What did you hope to accomplish/what is so important to you about writing this piece?
“I wanted to explore the issues raised by the central question of the play: ‘What would you do?’ This simple question speaks to the issue of character. Who are we really, deep down? Do we keep our true nature, our true character, hidden? Do we only bring it to the surface when pressed into action or do we live by these tenets every day? Are we our true selves when we are with others? My writing partner and I populated the piece with characters that represent various facets of the choices these brave people made. It was important to get this story right and to reflect the conflict with which they were faced.”
How much is true?
“It’s hard to put a percentage on it. There are specific moments uncovered in the research and there are situations that were created for the characters and their specific story arcs. The almost unbelievable story of Walter Suskind and his partnership with Ms. Pimentel and the nurses at the Creche is absolutely true.”
Are all characters based on one real person or several people?
“The characters are composites of people we discovered in our research, that we interviewed, or that we created in order to show another side of the central theme.”
Who are some of the people that you researched/interviewed for the play?
“There was a gentleman from near The Hague who became a valuable resource to learn what it was like to be a member of the resistance during that time. He had been arrested several times and survived the camps. He told us many stories, especially those of his aunt who he called, ‘the most resilient person I ever knew.’ He travelled to Colorado to see the production and was very moved to see some of her stories and his woven into the fabric of the show.”
What makes this story different from other Holocaust stories?
“The point of view is exclusively that of the occupied. They are the rescuers, those who were rescued, those who turned away. There are no Germans in the play. We do not show the camps. We do not dwell on the sadness of the situation. These are people who are trying to go on living, who are wrestling with their consciences, who are shown their true character gradually, or sometimes suddenly, or sometimes in the last hour.”
Tell me about your writing partner and how you write a play together.
“Jamie Bruss (now Patti) is a college instructor in Pueblo. We started writing as a team about ten years ago when we both lived in Denver. We’re lucky in that everything we’ve written together has been produced. Because of our schedules and where we live (she in Pueblo, me in Breckenridge), we often write via e-mail, phone, and IM sessions. A great deal of Hidden was written separately. The bulk of the show was solidified over the course of a week when Jamie was in Breckenridge.”
What is the inspiration for your recommendation on the set design/projections?
“When Jamie and I were doing research in Amsterdam, we discovered, quite by accident, the Hollandse Shouwburg, which figures so prominently into the action of the play. What remains of the theatre is an open garden (where the stage used to be), a few broken walls, and a series of benches for visitors to sit and meditate. This seemed an apt environment for the show which evokes a reverential style — Miriam is recalling her story to a reporter while the rest of the players, referred to as ‘Voices,’ create the environment that gives her story purpose. The open and elevated space allows for quick scene shifts and makes possible the use of projections that provide historical context. The primary images are from the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam which generously allowed the exclusive use of these images for the production.”
The play “Hidden” has only been produced once before and it was so well received that Moore has been looking for another opportunity to present the exquisite piece and hopes that church groups, book clubs, school groups, women’s clubs and neighbors come to experience it together.
“This play is exactly why we have group discounts at Thingamajig. It is a piece that is meant to get rallied behind and inspired by. Before the play was published, and before Thingamajig existed, I put quite a lot of effort sending the script out to all the different theatre avenues that I had connections to. I wanted everyone to know about it. It inspired me so much. I don’t want anyone to miss it.”
The Champagne Opening begins on May 10 and tickets include food drink and a not-to-be missed opportunity to talk back with the cast after the show. Tickets to the opening are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Regular tickets are $18 in advance or $25 at the door. Groups of 10 or more are $16 and a special rate for Hidden groups of 20 or more are only $10. Groups must book together and be paid in full in advance as one reservation, over the phone or in person. “Hidden” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., May 10-26. Tickets can be purchased online at www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-7469. The play is appropriate for ages 12 and up.