The Laguna Playhouse has put together two very interesting and true plays that are of Jewish significance to be performed in the coming season: “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” and “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.”
What makes them significant is that they are true stories about children who lived through the Holocaust.
“Butterfly” will be performed by the highly acclaimed Youth Theatre Program from February 14 through 16 at 10 a.m. “Pianist” will be performed Main Stage in May.
This will be a two part series so we can focus on the importance of both productions.
Ann Wareham, artistic director, comes to The Laguna Playhouse after 27 years as a producing partner with Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and Donna Inglima, director of youth theatre, education and outreach, has been at The Laguna Playhouse since 1998. Both talked with OCJL about staging “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Celeste Raspanti, a former nun and playwright, shared her story about how this one-act play came about and her continued joy of hearing not just from those who have seen the play but those who have performed it and how the words and scenes have affected them.
Inglima says that while the show is being staged for those in middle school, younger children and their parents will find the play to be a wonderful catalyst for conversations dealing with the historical aspect of what it was like to be children in the Terezin concentration camp.
Raspanti first “met” the children of Terezin while browsing through a bookstore in Chicago in 1964. She was teaching English at the time and was drawn to the literature section and found a book entitled . . . I never saw another butterfly. . . . It was the subtitle that drew her into the book: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. When she reached the end of the book, she was stunned. Out of the 15,000 children in the camp, only 100 survived.
One of those children was Raja Englanderova, born in 1929, was transported to Terezin in 1942. After the liberation, she returned to Prague. Raja was one year younger than Raspanti.
It took 3 years of research, letters and some “mitzvahs” (those who donated monies for her trip to Europe to continue research and meet Raja) to help create the show that will be presented at The Laguna Playhouse.
“I was a nun at the time,” Raspanti said. “I couldn’t just go to Europe. I had to receive permission from my Mother Superior. Thankfully, Raja wanted to talk with me. She became a doctor and mother. Although married at the time, she’s divorced now.”
The Milwaukee Repertoire Theatre was the first to produce the show in 1967. Since then it has been translated into numerous languages and performed all over the world, “including Germany!” said Raspanti.
The show is about Raja’s time in Terezin, how women in the camp continued to teach the children and give them hope and encouragement for their futures. Raja was one of the surviving children and watched her family be taken away.
Wareham hopes that by producing this show that the children and their parents find that “it sheds new light and they truly do take away the thought of how important hope is when the stakes are so high — that goodness truly can prevail. “As parents, we need to open up every opportunity to have dialogue on and about historical events and connect with our kids every chance we get,” she said.
Inglima shared her thoughts that the audiences need to continue to see that, “from tragedy comes art that can help heal. This play in particular gives a glimpse of hope and reveals an inner feeling that helps children understand the times and what these children went through. We also hold a question and answer period after the performance with actual holocaust survivors. This honors their lives, their bravery and teaches the children not to forget what happened. As time goes on, this becomes harder to do — and it’s a very important part of our Youth Theatre experience.”
What was the reason behind Raspanti’s choosing to create the play with Raja and her best friend in the starring roles? “Because she was one of the 100 who survived, I asked myself, ‘What would it be like to be one of 100 who survived? Would I be sad, depressed, angry, hateful, wanting revenge?’ When I met Raja and got to know her, I wanted to tell that story.”
Raspanti, who is the now the archivist at the Cathedral of Saint Paul National Shrine of the Apostle Paul in Milwaukee, still goes out and talks with children about the importance of understanding what the children in Terezin went through and the valor that the women who continued to teach them despite what they all knew what the outcome would be.
“What I really like to tell these children after I’ve told them Raja’s true story is that they need to remember what went on, think about what it would have felt like to be them and that they talked to a person who was there during this bleak, yet hopeful part of history,” she concluded.
For details and ticket information, contact The Laguna Playhouse at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651; (949) 497-2787 ext. 217; www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
A poem from I Never
Saw Another Butterfly
The last, the very last, so richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it
wished to kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here, penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me.
And the white chestnut
branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto.
Book by Hana Volavkova
Poem by Pavel Friedman
who died at Auschwitz in 1944.
The following have made “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” possible through their tax deductible donation to The Laguna Playhouse, a community benefit 501C3 non profit:
Orange County Jewish Life
Annee Della Donna
Pam and Michael Chozen
Sharon and Bert Weidberg
Toni and Terry McDonald
Aviva and Fred Forster