by Mike Poblete · August 3, 2014
Barbed wire separates the audience from the stage in Tomas Hrbek, Lucie Kolouchova and Daniel Hrbek’s The Good And The True, a two-handed monologue formatted show depicting the true lives and survival of two Czech Jews living through the holocaust. Hana Pravda is an aspiring actress who was impressively featured in a few short films at the birth of the medium before getting caught up in the twentieth century’s most enduring atrocity. Through determination and quick wits, she and a friend are able to escape hard labor, an indefinite death march and a frightened, juvenile SS officer to take refuge in a sympathetic countryside town. Milos Dorby, a precocious teenager, becomes an Auschwitz chef through attrition, thereby saving himself and his brother from starvation, at the painful cost of those around him. Both miraculously go on to lead long and fulfilling lives, while somehow maintaining an unlikely humor tied to their histories.
Developed by Prague’s Scandovo Theatre, the script is a compilation of Pravda and Dorby’s firsthand accounts, delivered with a matter-of-fact past tense as if the audience were sitting at their dinner tables. The authenticity of the words are palpable, as likeminded individuals around me uttered sounds of recognition and agreement, but validity doesn’t equate to drama. While both characters had many playful and charming attributes (Milos’ theft of two mattresses to impress a couple of teenage girls is just delightful), the lack of any real fault in either of their actions, in addition to no interaction whatsoever between the Hana and Milos’ journeys, created a lack of engagement.
Most of the success of any monologue structured play lies with its actors. Saul Reichlin was a dynamic Milos, running around the stage with the physicality of the much, much younger teenager he was portraying. The part of Hana was meant to be played by her real life granddaughter, Isobel Pravda, but sadly she was unable to enter the country due to visa restrictions. So Hannah D. Scott admirably stepped into the role with only a few days’ notice. Scott did an exemplary job under the circumstances, but her lack of rehearsal time meant she was short on the confidence required to really lift Hana off the page and give her story the vigor it required. Additionally, Reichlin and Scott’s unexplained decades’ age difference further highlighted the uncomfortable lack of plot intertwining between Hana and Milos.
Director Daniel Hrbek made striking aesthetic choices: train tracks in the middle of the stage were covered in the shoes that all prisoners immediately discarded upon entering the concentration camps; and at one point a piano, a symbol of freedom and expression, doubled as a haunting oven. Karel Simek’s slick lighting and Stanislav Halbrstat’s lingering spoken word sounds lent a healthy amount of theatricality to an otherwise visually static performance, but the technical elements were quite distracting at times, such as Hana’s early mugging for the overlit flashes of the Czech film cameras.
The story telling was appropriately detailed and vivid, but the momentum came not from the choices of the characters, but from the holocaust itself which, for better or worse, is a tale we are all too familiar with. Moments of lightness seemed placed to relieve a tension that was never built. We know how the war ends, we know that these two are going to survive. So as if I was with my own grandparents, I was charmed and happy to be transported to another time, but ultimately, even with a quick paced running time of 85 minutes, I hit a point where I found myself looking at my watch wondering when exactly the story was going to finish with its predictable conclusion.