“Way To Heaven” Adds A New Twist To The Holocaust

As if the horrors of the Holocaust aren’t tragic enough, Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga (translated by David Johnston) takes a little-known incident and turns it into an even more devious plot to hide those horrors. His haunting play, “Way To Heaven,” makes for a stunning evening of thought-provoking viewing at the New Jewish Theatre’s latest effort.

Jason Cannon and Terry Meddows in the powerful "Way To Heaven" at New Jewish Theatre.

Based on a true-life encounter by a Swiss representative of the Red Cross when he visited Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in 1944, the play takes his thoughts and turns it into the opening monologue in “Way To Heaven.” This stunning moment leads us into a series of scenes that unfold into a horrific plot to deceive the public on the atrocities that went on in these camps.

Veteran actor Jerry Vogel mesmerizes as the Red Cross representative describing the idyllic setting of the camp which is shown as an ideal village where the Jews are able to live their lives in harmony with the German officers- sharing their philosophies and religious beliefs on a mutual level of understanding. After the rep is gone, the people start repeating their “scenes” as other people enter and take over the “roles” repeating the same lines and often starting over the “scenes” in frustration. Like some  absurd episode of “The Twilight Zone,” we soon begin to understand what is going on.

A rock-steady portrayal of the elderly Jewish “statesman” by Terry Meddows is the lynch-pin of this disturbing sham of this perfect village. His disgust for what he and his fellow prisoners are forced to do make him numb in his hope for a better life in their predicament. Jason Cannon is downright eerie as he continues to push for this “performance” as commanded by his superiors. These two actors dominate the stage for the better part of the play and together make a powerful pair.

Scott McMaster and Julie Layton in "Way To Heaven" at New Jewish Theatre.

The entire cast works beautifully in this ensemble “play within a play,” if you will. Elizabeth Teeter stuns as she plays with her make-shift doll and goes into a trance-like state. As young as she is, she seems to realize the horror of what they all are going through. Scott McMaster shines as a young man pretending to aspire to making a better life for himself and his fiance- first played by Julie Layton who decides to make a break from the camp- then by Shaina Schrooten as the first young lady has obviously sealed her fate “offstage.”

A series of five young men interchange as, among other things, boys playing with a top. All of the “characters” must rehearse their “lines” and movements over and over again as this ethereal scene continues for what we must conclude is a procession of people making sure the “checks and balances” of this camp remain intact and the blissful life of the “village” continues.

Director Doug Finlayson keeps us on the edge of our seats with his masterful work, aided by the stunning set design of John Stark and the other-worldly lighting design by Michael Sullivan. It’s a total package that disturbs, haunts and provokes. Don’t miss “Way To Heaven” at the New Jewish Theatre through February 12th. Call the box office at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

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