Holocaust play provides powerful message

Petr Ginz was, by all accounts, a fairly remarkable boy.

By the age of 16, he had penned five novels, a diary that detailed the Nazi occupation of Prague, where Ginz lived, created over 170 drawings and paintings, written many short stories and edited an underground magazine. Such accomplishments before the age of 20 are equal to what many can only hope to achieve in a lifetime; and for Ginz, it was: when he was 16, he was among the many murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Photo courtesy of Ken Bennett

Photo courtesy of Ken Bennett

“Embers and Stars: The Story of Petr Ginz,” tells the story of Petr Ginz (played by freshman Clint Blumenberg) through his internment at Terezin, a transit camp 60 kilometers outside of Prague.

While there, Petr served as an inspiration to others by starting an underground magazine, Vedem. The magazine helped Petr and his fellow residents focus on maintaining their humanity — a subtle way to fight the harsh conditions of Terezin by focusing on sharing stories and information with one another rather than descending into the darkness of malnutrition and cruelty they faced at Terezin.

“Embers and Stars” is unique in that it is inaugurating its world premiere on the Wake Forest Ring Theatre stage.

Based on the documentary The Last Flight of Petr Ginz and The Diary of Petr Ginz, the play was written as a collaboration between Professor Cindy Gendrich, a theatre professor at Wake Forest, and Andrew White, a director at Lookingglass theatre in Chicago.

Gendrich also directed the play, which presented new challenges for her. “I’m usually just the director,” said Gendrich. “This was challenging because it requires oscillating between my writer and director self.”

Much of the strength of “Embers and Stars” is due to the ensemble as a whole, which is full of actors who give a convincing sense of the bond that comes from so much hardship.

Clint Blumenberg is strong as the title role of Petr Ginz, capturing the transition of Petr’s youthful naïveté to a more somber, mature wisdom. Another standout is senior Sarah Davis as Eva, Petr’s younger sister. Davis is very convincing in her portrayal of a much-younger character, and also excelled showing the shift from child to adult.

The set, designed by Wake theatre professor Rob Eastman-Mullins, is a wonderfully detailed apparatus that rotates between bunks at Terezin and outside walls that serve both as the outside of the present-day camp and flashbacks to Prague.

The detail of the set pieces make the somewhat-limited space of the Ring seem much larger, without taking away any of the theatre’s intimacy.

This attention to detail also carries through to the props. Shadow puppets, designed by Wake theatre professor Mary Wayne-Thomas and senior Madeleine Ormond, are used when Ginz reads his stories aloud and adds a wonderful layer of depth to the play.

“Embers and Stars” does have some kinks — for instance, sometimes the shift between the past and present can be unclear. But overall, this play is an affecting, inspiring experience — it does a wonderful job of focusing more on the extraordinary deeds that Petr was able to bring about in his short life rather than the horrible circumstances that he died in, without downplay the severity and gloom brought on by the Nazi occupation.

There are some plans to perhaps develop “Embers and Stars” further in Chicago, as it bears the marks of a professional play already.

Is there a single message to take away from “Embers and Stars?” Gendrich says that she doesn’t believe in specific messages, but if there is one thing she would like the audience to consider, it’s to learn something from a brilliant teenager who died too soon — “keep color and imagination in your life while you are alive, and refuse to give up in the face of real, serious issues.”