ME's Portland Stage Premieres Manifest, a Holocaust 'Vaudeville,' Feb. 19-March 7

News   ME's Portland Stage Premieres Manifest, a Holocaust 'Vaudeville,' Feb. 19-March 7
 
Brian Silberman's award-winning Manifest, a buoyantly theatrical telling of Holocaust stories, opens its world premiere by the Portland Stage Company in Maine Feb. 19, following previews Feb. 16-18.
A scene from the world premiere, Manifest.
A scene from the world premiere, Manifest.

Brian Silberman's award-winning Manifest, a buoyantly theatrical telling of Holocaust stories, opens its world premiere by the Portland Stage Company in Maine Feb. 19, following previews Feb. 16-18.

Dubbed "a theatrical vaudeville," Silberman's work interweaves three stories of concentration camp life, plus the experiences of a modern-day acting troupe rehearsing the same stories. The script won the 1998 Clauder Competition, a New England playwriting contest.

Connecticut writer Silberman's Holocaust-oriented Manifest, continuing to March 7, is not easily described or defined, PSC artistic director Anita Stewart told Playbill On-Line in fall 1998.

"Brian's take on it is that he wanted to look at the people who were fighting what was happening, inside the camps," said Stewart. "It jumps time and place, there are scenes in the camps and dream scenes; a Joseph Mengele character who acts as a kind of emcee; a group of modern-day actors..."

The play will have live klezmer music by the Casco Bay Tummlers, heightening a "Brechtian" quality, she said. Christopher Grabowski will direct. The playwright's research about camps revealed there were "clandestine programs of songs and skits, evenings of entertainment, taking place in the barracks," Silberman said in production notes.

"I began to think how these cabarets, these stories, functioned as vital acts of resistance, a means of fighting back," he said. "(This) determined the style and aesthetic I would follow."

Why klezmer?

"It allows pain to be transformed into joy or art," he said. "It is radical and untamed, the music of resistance."

Silberman earned an MFA in playwriting from Carnegie Mellon University.

The Manifest company includes Ron Botting, Mercedes Herrero, Jennifer Mattern, Susan Knight, Thomas Pasely, Ben Rosen and Bess Weldon. The Casco Bay Tummlers are Carl Dimow (flute and strings), Julie Goell (bass, strings, vocals and music director), Danny Mills (clarinet) and Hayes Porterfield (drums and percussion).

Designers are Anita Stewart (set and lighting) and April Soroko (costume).

The Clauder Competition is a biannual contest in which competition organizers choose a host New England theatre and offer the best scripts and a stipend to the troupe, toward a production of the script of that company's choosing.

Manifest was developed in a reading at "The Little Festival of the Unexpected" in 1998. Grabowski directed.

Next up at PSC is another collection of stories: Writer-director Bartlett Sher's work-in-progress adaptation (with music) of Washington ("Rip Van Winkle") Irving's works, called Old Dutch Bowling, or The Tales of Washington Irving, March 16-April 4 and Three Tall Women by Edward Albee. (April 20 May 9)

Portland Stage Company is at the Portland Performing Arts Center, 25A Forest Ave. Tickets are $18-$30. For information call (207) 774-0465.

The Portland Stage website is www.portlandstage.com.

-- By Kenneth Jones

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