“Red Box” Finds Hope in the Holocaust

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The two-act play “The Red Box” masterfully explores a love story that takes place in a time when the existence of any love or any faith seemed inconceivable: during the Holocaust.

Yesterday night, The Wien Experimental Theater hosted a stage reading of “The Red Box,” a play written in 2006 by Jason Mitchell.

The play opens with the main character Victor as a recluse old man (Lawrence Merritt), who refuses the efforts of an eager woman who wants to interview him about his life during the Holocaust.

Eventually and reluctantly, he lets the woman in, and the story of his life begins. He narrates while Jonathan Monk acts out the past as the young Victor.

Victor is a naive, optimistic boy from a upper class Jewish family. In order to escape his mother’s smothering embrace, he finds a job at a local cafe where he meets charismatic and carefree Martin (Joel T. Bauer).

Amidst the rise of the Nazi regime, the audience is allowed a glimpse of the blossoming but forbidden relationship between Victor and Martin. Victor tells Martin that they should escape to a red house in Berlin, but Victor seems oblivious to what they are escaping from.

The audience knew from the beginning that this love would come to an end. The voices of the actors become more insistent. The innocence and optimism that defined young Victor gradually disappears.

In their last conversation, which occurs after Victor leaves his family because they forbid him to see Martin, Martin rejects Victor’s plan to run away, but his reluctance in doing so is apparent.

Martin’s parting line to Victor is: “Do whatever you can to survive.”

This line would echo later on when Victor finds himself in a concentration camp as a prisoner punished for his sexual orientation. Mitchell, using research from gay survivors Holocaust, recreates scenes where Victor is targeted for being an outcast.

As Victor puts it himself, he can’t be accepted by the Jewish prisoners because he is gay, but he can’t be accepted by the gays either because he is Jewish.

During this time, his faith is challenged and his love for Martin, though strong in the beginning, fades. The concentration camp forces Victor to abandon his younger years, turning him into a hardened young man.

The play is performed on split stages, and the scenes switch between the present and the past. Merritt tells Victor’s story while Monk acts it out.

Even as the play focused on the Holocaust, Mitchell manages to write in humor, a feat that is not easy given the subject matter. However, Mitchell seems to do this to further highlight the life and personality of victims in the Holocaust. And it works.

The actors and actresses used their voices to emphasize the movement within the play. In the most appropriate places, silence said more than words needed to tell.

While the actors read their lines, a slideshow played in the background, revealing photos from previous productions of “The Red Box” and also images from the Holocaust. These additions compensated for the lack of costumes and grand makeup in stage readings.

“The Red Box” premiered in 2006 and has been circulating across the country. The staged reading was sponsored by the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies.

Most impressive about this play is the sentimentality that pervades the storyline and the emotions that actors invoke from the audience, who are on their edges, rooting for Victor to survive.

Article originally published in The Mirror on March 28, 2012

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