MORE THAN 73 years have passed since the Holocaust met its deserved demise, so one would think that after all the writings, lectures, poetry, dancing, paintings, discussions, novels, movies, essays, books and opinion pieces on the subject, the attention would wane. But no. And fortunately, no. With a few countries still supporting genocide, plus the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States, according to the Anti Defamation League, there is renewed interest.
Alan Lester Brooks, a retired physician/radiologist, and emerging playwright, found his second calling with a new play, “A Splintered Soul,” which is the next offering at the award-winning International City Theater in Long Beach from Oct. 17 -Nov. 4. He provides us with us with a new angle and eyes to see another side of the Holocaust immigrant story.
As a young man living in Huntington Park with his family right after WWII, Brooks met many immigrant families who had just arrived from Europe after surviving the horrors of the concentration camps. They came with stories, and Alan listened to these stories—horrifying and terrifying—and how this left a devastating effect on them. “The effects don’t go away,” nor does the guilt of surviving—ever—claims Brooks.
“I always liked to write, from early childhood,” he recalled, “but I always liked to write dialogue. I didn’t like to write description!” Therefore, writing a novel was out of the question. After the decision to write a play about what he had learned from the stories he remembered, Brooks took sessions at First Stage, a Wisconsin-based performing arts academy, where there was much give and take, in order to hone his talents and, importantly, get feedback on what he was writing. He had this story in his head, he explained, but playwrighting tools were needed to bring his play to fruition. He says he had a lot to learn, “but the story was in my head long before I started to write.”
The scene is San Francisco, 1947. It’s the story of how “one society immigrates into a different culture” and how these wrecked souls with heavy “baggage” cope with their new world in America. The three-act play follows these survivors of the Holocaust and how they try to adapt when they are thrust into a different culture. Do they want to become Americanized or hold on to their old ways with its horrific memories? Where do they fit in? And then there is Israel. Should they go to Israel? How do they integrate their Jewish values given the environment of the ‘40s in America? Will this change of country help them fit into a totally different society? The discussions are long and soul-searching, all led by a young, former resistance fighter and immigrant, Polish Rabbi Simon Kroeller, who also has haunting memories of the Holocaust.
Prominent legal expert Alan Dershowitz, upon seeing the critically acclaimed play a few years ago in New York, stated that this play “is a thinking, thought-provoking play which raises complex ethical dilemmas about means and ends,” thus raising many legal, ethical and moral questions. Interestingly, Dershowitz’ daughter, Ella, appeared in the first off-Broadway production of “The Splintered Soul.”
In addition to the New York production, the play has had three other productions prior to the one which will be onstage in Long Beach: two in Chicago and one 10 years ago at the Odyssey in Los Angeles. “It has been rewritten many times,” admitted Brooks, but the compelling story is the same. “Plays are always a project in progress,” he said.
International City Theatre producer/director Caryn Desai, who has supported Alan and this play with the initial reading at ICT, observed: “Alan has poured his time and talent into this thought provoking play. It has a different look and take on Holocaust survivors but speaks to us on an even greater level about human nature.”
Brooks attended UCLA Medical School and served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. After the war, he made many Vietnamese friends, and as a result, he and his wife, Rosecarrie, both strong believers in tikkun olam, brought two Vietnamese friends to the United States. One is now a CPA and the other a pharmacist. He was also invited to lecture on radiology in Hanoi’s major teaching hospital. The Brookses have two daughters, Lisa, a singer/songwriter who participated in summer stock at the Alpert JCC in Long Beach, and Alexis, who works in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.
For information about individual or group tickets, please call the ICT box office at (562) 495-4595.
Harriet Ellis is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.