High school play theme is 'to live' Arthur Miller work depicts Holocaust CARROLL COUNTY DIVERSIONS

November 13, 1992|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Not many plays have a single word that sums up the message the actors wish to impart to the audience.

One exception is Arthur Miller's drama "Playing for Time," to be performed by the South Carroll High School Stagelighters at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21 at the school in Winfield.

"Live!" says Schmuel, one of the play's characters, to another character, Fania.

In that one word, a woman is given the hope and courage to fight to keep her life and that of a group that looks to her as their leader.

The scene is the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Southern Poland during World War II. A group of women -- a mix of Jews, Polish, Slavs and some who are half Jewish and half other European -- are thrown together because of their ability to play music.

Among the women is a well-known Parisian singer, Fania Fenelon, who, because of her ability and pleasing voice, becomes the leader of the group.

"She can sing and orchestrate some of the pieces the group is given to play, and her voice pleases Dr. Mengele, a German physician who experiments on some of the prisoners," explained Mike Hoover, SCHS English teacher and the play's director.

"The women have been selected because they can sort of play music, so they play for the commandant of the camp. They even play for others going to their deaths," Mr. Hoover said. "They know as long as they can play they won't be gassed."

At one point during the two-year period that the play covers, when even Fania wonders if she can go on, Schmuel, a Yiddish electrician and prisoner, takes her aside to utter the single word: "Live!"

It's enough. When the play ends, Fania, played by senior Leigh Ann Reger, is talking with several surviving members of the group some 40 years later.

"Fania has a strong-willed personality," said Leigh Ann, 18. "The group looks to her for knowledge and support, and as a friend. She gets sick toward the end and barely lives through. She's taken to be shot, but is saved."

Jenny Blair, 17, the Stagelighters' president, plays the women's commandant for whom the group performs. It is her they must please with their concerts.

"My role is, basically, if I like the music, you can live," Jenny said. "If I don't like it and am not entertained, you die, so they are playing for time -- playing for their lives."

The drama is a switch for the Stagelighters, who usually perform a musical or farce.

But it was the students who requested the serious play, Mr. Hoover said.

"Most of the kids are experienced, so it's a challenge," the director noted. "We're going for the mood and impact. They're really going to have to pull out the emotion to the audience."

Although the play calls for only 22 cast members, Mr. Hoover selected 60 so he could get the impact he wanted.

"It's educational for the kids, too," he said. "It's teaching them about a period of history they are largely unfamiliar with."

Also different for the young actors will be a lack of scenic props. Although costumes will be as authentic as possible, the set will be quite simple.

"There will be very minimal set because there are so many scenes in different places," Mr. Hoover said.

But concentration camps are not lavish places. What happened in German camps in World War II was a dark tragedy in world history.

"The message is: 'Remember it, they died for a reason,' " said Leigh Ann. "And, 'Please don't let it happen again.' "

Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for students, and will be available at the door. For advance tickets, call Sondra Reger at the school, 795-8500.

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