(Peter Marks’s article appeared in The Washington Post, 8/5; via msn and the Drudge Report.)
It started with a photo album, submitted over the transom to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and an archivist who grasped its extraordinary historical value. In the customary story arc of such finds, the photos — of Nazi officers, their families and colleagues wining and dining and relaxing in the sun at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and killing center — would have been authenticated and put in the collection, for inspection by scholars and museumgoers.
This astonishing album, however, was also destined for the stage.
News of the photographs, acquired in 2006 by the museum and archivist Rebecca Erbelding from a retired counterintelligence officer in Virginia, came to the attention of Moisés Kaufman, an American stage director and son of Holocaust survivors who had immigrated to Venezuela. With longtime colleague Amanda Gronich at Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Project — creators of “The Laramie Project” — he set about reframing the story behind the photos as dramatic art.
The result is the play “Here There Are Blueberries,” having its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California through Aug. 21, with New York-based Tectonic’s sights set on a East Coast debut. The 90-minute play, directed by Kaufman, features eight actors in multiple roles and, centrally, Elizabeth Stahlmann as Erbelding.
“You know, I’m not used to being a protagonist,” Erbelding said in a recent Zoom interview. “So, talking about how the Rebecca character changes became a very newsstrange, out-of-body thing.”
Imagining how 116 snapshots could be the source for anything more dynamic than an elaborate PowerPoint presentation was the challenge facing Kaufman and Gronich when they embarked on the project several years ago.
“I never thought I would write a play about [the Holocaust],” Kaufman said, adding that his Romanian-born father spent the war hiding in a basement, and sought refuge in Venezuela afterward, in an era when the United States put curbs on Jewish immigration.
It is in fact a historical event about which the most has been written in the history of literature,” Kaufman said. “So the idea of doing something about it seemed redundant. But then I was shown those photographs, and something really struck a chord. These people sunbathing next to a concentration camp, or eating blueberries. I felt that this is a discourse that has not really been addressed. How do you eat blueberries and celebrate next to a concentration camp?”)