"SIGNS OF LIFE" Historical Drama, Timeless Themes…A Theater Review

Historical Drama, Timeless Themes…

In the decades since the end of World War II, countless stories about the horrors of the Holocaust and its victims (Jews, homosexuals, and others) have emerged. For every true (or based-on-fact) chronicle from that dark chapter in history that has touched the masses (“The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Bent”, etc…), there are likely a thousand others that have not yet been told. The stories find a way to survive, however– even if they are just passed on from one person to another.  “Signs of Life”, a stunning new musical drama which made its world premiere in New York City on February 16th, brings one of those stories about the Holocaust to the stage.   Historical significance notwithstanding, “Signs of Life”‘s universal themes of man’s inhumanity to man and the survival over injustice will be felt by all groups that have ever been discriminated against, repressed, or outright persecuted.  The play’s themes of hope and the strength of the human spirit should resonate with everyone.

“Signs of Life” is set during World War II in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  As the play opens, we meet an  enthusiastic, pretty artist named Lorelei (Patricia Noonan) and her equally vivacious gay best friend Jonas (Nic Cory) (Jonas tells Lorelei, “If you weren’t a girl, I’d take you to bed and ravage you!”).  The two are enjoying life, doing things like attending art shows and the theater together.  Soon afterward, we also meet cabaret singer Kurt Gerard (Jason Collins) and bohemian, free-spirited activist Simon (Wilson Bridges)– who is trying to warn his carefree peers about the upcoming horror.  The horror indeed proved to be very real, albeit insidious: Prague was swept up by the Nazis’ attempt to “control” the Jews of Europe (as well as “the degenerates and the homosexuals”).  The art galleries close, universities are shut down, and yellow stars of David branding the Jews begin to appear.  Next, the characters are forced to leave their haven in Prague for a Nazi-created town called “Theresianstadt”.  Created as a city for the artistic and academic Jews, there are sinister notions brewing beneath.  As you may have deferred by now, the pretty window dressing of Theresianstadt that’s been put up for the world to see is just a facade.  Jonas, who’s triply cursed (being Jewish, gay, and being too outspoken to submit to the Nazi’s intimidation), is one of the earliest casualties.  The Nazis use threats, manipulation, violence, and other abuses (all fearlessly depicted on the stage in “Signs of Life”) to keep control… and the “control” is actually a precursor to outright genocide.  The captives attempt some creative solutions, including producing a play called “Golem of Prague” with cryptic messages about the abuses going on.  The plan fails, but they still persevere.  Who will survive? If they do survive, what’s the price? And just as importantly, will their STORY survive?

“Signs of Life” is fearlessly directed by Jeremy Dobrish.  With musical direction by Michael Pettry, there are never any incongruities between the musical and the dramatic aspects of the play; it seems like there’s perfect synergy.  There’s also flawless acting by the entire cast, with magnetic actress Patricia Noonan being a particular standout.  As Lorelei, she gives the Nazis what they want to get through from day to day alive, but never succumbs to their philosophy. She hopes that her drawings, which depict the daily horrors of the Jews’ captivity, will one day tell their story.  “Signs of Life” is compelling theater, but as I said before, the universal themes and lessons are many: Repression cannot stop creativity, attraction, love, hope, or even humor (When Lorelei bemoans, “I’ve never been so hungry!“, Simon tries to retort with some levity: “Pretend it’s Yom Kippur!”).  The creative process, also, cannot be hampered– whether the challenges range from economic depression to, at the most extreme, the fight for survival itself.  And, it’s worth noting that the same prejudices (anti-Semitism, homophobia) and the same “us versus them” attitude that allowed Hitler to rise to powers till exist today…

“Signs of Life” is presented by Amas Musical Theater in association with Snap Two Productions and is currently playing at Marjorie Deane Little Theater, at 5 West 63rd St, through March 21st.  For tickets, call (212)352-3101 or go to www.OvationTix.com/TRS/cal/425  ; Visit www.SignsofLifetheMusical.com for more info.

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