March 15, 1999
The world premiere of Deborah Lynn Frockt's play, The Book of Ruth, is currently running at Seattle Children's Theatre. This compelling and emotional production presents the story of a young Czechoslovakian Jewish girl, Ruth, and her grandmother, Hannah, who are interned by the Nazis in the transit camp, Terezin, toward the end of World War II.
Separated from the rest of their family, the two sit imprisoned in the camp, struggling each day to care for one another, to avoid transports to the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka and to stave off starvation.
As Ruth resorts to desperate measures to feed Hannah, who has become weak, Hannah secretly makes plans of her own to ensure Ruth's future. She wants her granddaughter to feel a sense of connection and a sense of identity that will remain with her for the rest of her life. In giving Ruth her recipes for the Jewish dishes that have been a part of the family for ages, she is also giving her a way to keep the family spirit and traditions alive from generation to generation. These treasured recipes carry warm memories of joyful times and are an integral part of the family's heritage. Writing them down gives her hope for Ruth's survival.
This play addresses a painful chapter in history with sensitivity to the young audiences for whom this may be a first exposure to the Holocaust. It allows them to see victims as individuals instead of nameless statistics, and helps to personalize the experience. The characters demonstrate the incredible resilience and power of the human spirit that these victims possessed during a time marked by destructive racism and atrocities.
Their resistance to this horrifying experience came in a spiritual or psychological form many times. For Hannah, it was in the imaginary cooking lessons she gave to Ruth. For Ruth, it was in the form of her drawings and in the creation of an oven made of stones. For others, it was in the ability to continue their education under a veil of secrecy. These activities provided them with a source of faith and courage to combat the daily terrors of the camp.
The Book of Ruth is set on a sparse gray stage with actual photos from various ghettos and internment camps shown to give the audience an accurate picture of the conditions that existed during this time. A sense of bleakness is apparent in these photos and it is transmitted to the set.
The ensemble of five actors is a talented group who play their roles with passion and intensity. Marjorie Nelson, as Hannah, and Jennifer Sue Johnson, as Ruth, connect well and make their relationship seem deeply rooted and real. It is impossible to distrance oneself from these characters, not only because of the story they tell, but also because of the ability of the actors to authenticate their roles.
The Book of Ruth is a moving experience filled with heart and emotion. It is also an excellent educational tool which can serve as a framework for young people to explore issues of discrimination and injustice in the world today.
In conjunction with the play's premiere, SCT has brought in The Drawings of the Children of the Terezin Ghetto, a national touring exhibit consisting of forty-five prints of original art and poetry by young Holocaust victims. These works were rescued at the war's end and preserved at the State Jewish Museum in Prague. The exhibit will be in Seattle until April 4 and is available for viewing as in conjunction with the play.
The Book of Ruth runs through May 14. Due to the nature of its content, SCT is strongly advising an age recommendation of nine years and up. For ticket information, call 206-441-3322.