In the Jewish ghetto of Vilna, Lithuania, near the end of World War II, a resident named Herman Kruk kept a diary. Ghetto, by Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol, is based on Kruk’s diaries, telling the story of a small group of musicians, actors and dancers whose lives were spared when it was decided they could put on shows for their Nazi captors and for fellow prisoners as a last chance to enjoy themselves.
Using the real music, songs, and snippets of plays they created, their story is told against the horrific backdrop of the Holocaust and the threat that hung over them at all times — transport to the camps.
Ed Giron directs this DIJO production, as well as taking a lead role as Weiskopf, the Jewish tailor who builds an empire in the ghetto, laundering and mending uniforms from the front lines. His energy crackles as the charismatic entrepreneur who is never at a loss for a clever line.
The quality of acting among the large ensemble cast is somewhat uneven, but they have surely put their hearts into this production.
Among the standouts are George Coe as the Nazi commander who delights in cruelly playing with the emotions of his prisoners, Jennifer Marco as the glamorous Jewish singer with whom he becomes infatuated — and who has a fine set of pipes, indeed — and Richard Lonsbury and Pacomio Sun as rebellious young men who take matters into their own hands.
Jerry Oshinsky is Kruk, who serves at times as a sort of narrator. Bill Waxman is musical director, providing some live piano music onstage, but also playing an eccentric puppeteer whose marionette (Maia Mook) gives him a mouthpiece to speak the truth.
Kudos to DIJO Productions for bravely tackling this difficult material, inspiring at the same time as it is heartbreaking. It is ironic to note that while it is challenging in the best of times for artists to make a living, in certain circumstances, art can save lives.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.