The Elegy Project presents the Chicago premiere of ELEGY.
The Holocaust was horrific. Jews were hunted, persecuted, and killed. Despite my strong belief in the context of ELEGY, the emotional engagement was missing from the content. Playwright Ron Hirsen’s story is about a poet survivor of Auschwitz. Hirsen sets the bulk of the story in 1970s with flashbacks to the Holocaust era. In the 70s, a twenty-something son stumbles on his father’s poem. He was unaware his father was a poet. He becomes fixated on his dad reading the poem out loud. His dad ignores him. The son becomes obsessed. The rationale for either’s position is unclear.
Under the direction of Dennis Zacek, the ensemble struggles to engage the audience. The context is compelling. The delivery isn't. Zacek keeps it more mechanical than emotional. Characters smashing a fist into a cake or throwing chess pieces doesn't feel like searing drama, it feels clunky. The son (played by Justin Leider)demands, repeatedly, a poetry reading. Under the Holocaust circumstances, Leider comes off unlikable and self-absorbed. The father (played by David Wohl) is stilted. This-kind-of-works for the scenes Wohl is suppressing his tortured poet soul. In the flashbacks, it doesn’t. Not seeing a stronger contrast in the poet from era to era is a missed opportunity for the audience to connect to his story of loss.
In some flashback scenes, Zacek also has Wohl and Iris Lieberman (mother) drop accents to represent their pre-Holocaust selves. It’s confusing then when they reunite in New York now with German accents. Despite that oddity, Lieberman delivers the most captivating moments of the play. At one point, she poignantly compares kissing a prison scar to reading a poem. It’s haunting.
ELEGY left me torn. On one hand, I believe everyone should educate themselves about the Holocaust through multiple and continual learning experiences. It’s vital to learn from the past. It’s important to understand how hatred can fester into genocide. On the other hand, ELEGY focuses more on a loss of poetry than the loss of the Jewish people.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Ron Hirsen
Directed by Dennis Zacek
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 5pm and 8:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru December 1st
Buy Tickets at www.elegyproject.org