California Center for the Arts' World Premiere Guides Audiences Through the Weight and Meaning of the word "Witness" as Well as the Painful Insight of Five Jewish Teenagers Murdered During the Holocaust

A Powerful Piece, Beautifully Staged. Having Audiences Also as Witnesses.  

Playing Until July 30 in Escondido 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of “Witnesses,” a world-premiere production by CCAE Theatricals.(Courtesy photo by Ken Jacques)

No doubt CCAE Theatricals (California Center for the Arts, Escondido) came to the region strong with beautiful productions of Once and The Light in the Piazza. The North County Company came even more potent with its first world premiere conceived by Jordan Beck with a book by Tony Award winner Robert L.Freedman. Witnesses is a theatrical event based on the diaries of five teenagers who lived through the Holocaust and did not survive. Miraculously, their journals did along with the horrific accounts. It reminds us how powerful art is while recounting a horrendous passage in human history crafted in a careful, tender, beautiful way. The story is about an hour and 40 minutes and it is told through each teen writing an entry in their diary combined with music by Carmel Dean, Matt Gould, Adam Gwon, Anna K. Jacobs, and Gerald Sternbach, lyrics by Jordan Beck, Mindi Dickstein, Matt Gould, Adam Gwon, and Anna K. Jacobs.

Kai Justice Rosales (Moshe Ze’ev Flinker), Camille Umoff (Renia Spiegel), Giovanny Diaz De Leon (Dawid Rubinowicz), Afra Sophia Tully (Éva Heymann), and Austyn Myers (Yitskhok Rudashevski), the young artists playing the teenagers, give an inspiring performance that is well-balanced, paced and cared for with strong vocals and histrionic impact. It is so wonderfully refreshing to see these up-and-coming young talents with such force! Matthew Herman’s scenic design is gray and somber giving exactly the right tone and home for the story to be told accentuated by Zach Blane’s lighting design and John Fredette’s sound design which comes at the tensest moments with a loud gunshot or strong boot stomping crisping the already pumped chills. Seeing these young talents with all the gray and beautiful musicality reminded me of Spring Awakening. I guess it's the time and the German aspect...

The diaries are from the following five teenagers:

Moshe Ze’ev Flinker; was born in The Hague on October 9, 1926, and was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. Moshe was a deeply religious young boy who grappled with the theological problems posed by the unprecedented persecution of the Jews.

Renia Spiegel; was a Jewish Polish diarist who was killed during World War II in the Holocaust. Spiegel's diary, kept between the ages of 15 and 18, documents her experience as a teenager living in the city of Przemyśl as conditions for Jews deteriorated.

Dawid Rubinowicz; was born on July 27, 1927, in the Polish city of Kielce. The oldest of three children, he and his family were very poor. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Dawid, like all Jews, was forced to do hard labor.

Éva Heymann; was a Jewish girl from Oradea. She began keeping a diary in 1944 during Nazi rule in Hungary. Her diary has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank.

The cast of “Witnesses,” a world-premiere production by CCAE Theatricals.(Courtesy photo by Ken Jacques)

Yitskhok Rudashevski; was a young Jewish teenager who lived in the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the 1940s. He wrote his diary from June 1941 to April 1943 which detailed his life & struggles living in the ghetto.

I will go ahead and say this is one of the best world premieres of the year and I hope it has more life beyond Escondido because it well deserves it. Marvelously directed by CCAE Artistic Director, J. Scott Lapp who shared in the performance that I saw that the performers will go into the studio in the upcoming days to record the songs and hopefully have a cast recording. Fingers crossed, it will happen. 

In the first minutes of the performance, the teens say they were "witnesses" and along the storytelling, it is also acknowledged that the audience by watching this story is too a witness. Sadly it also hits on a timely note on how racism and segregation are still so alive. As Spanish philosopher, Jorge Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and the added phrase by illustrator Tom Toro: "Yet, those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it". 

The performance I saw also had Holocaust survivors in the audience and my heart just melted. To share this show so beautiful yet with such a sad and infuriating story. There are no words.

Witnesses is a strong reminder that we should not forget, not take for granted, and definitely need to do better. Bravo CCAE for this.

Other cast members include: Katherine Paladichuk, Ian Dembek, Hannah Frederick , David Landis, and Priya Richard. 

There are five performances left from July 28-30. it is definitely not to be missed:

Follow the show on Instagram to see where it goes and how to support:   

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