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The Jew Catcher

a Drama
by David L. Fisher

COMPANY : Onion Man Productions [WEBSITE]
ID# 5259

SHOWING : April 06, 2018 - April 22, 2018



In 1962, Los Angeles, when a Holocaust survivor recognizes a man from her past, rather than turning to the authorities, a plan is put in action.

Playwright David Fisher
Director Tanya G Caldwell
Scenic design Tanya Moore
Cast Lee Buechele
Cast Lory Cox
Cast Phyllis Giller
Neil Joseph Johnson
Karl Robert Wayne
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Jewish People
by playgoer
Sunday, April 22, 2018
David L. Fisher’s "The Jew Catcher" has a powerful, compelling story to tell. It doesn’t start promisingly, however; the first scene features a strong seafood smell and has the feel of an educational lecture concerning WWII Germany, marred by the shambling performance of Hannah Hyde as a waitress with the posture, attitude, and vocabulary of the present day in a scene supposedly taking place in 1961. The first scene ends with a twist that explains that the informal meeting we just viewed was not what it seemed, and things only get better from there.

The action takes place on a set designed by Tanya Moore and James Beck. The tiny Onion Man stage doesn’t suit itself to realistic backgrounds for the many locations the script calls for or to lush, realistic furniture for these locations. Instead, we get a collection of simple pieces that are rearranged to suggest different places and a wall covering that depicts a Los Angeles scene initially, but is stripped away as scenes go by to reveal an image more in line with the subject matter of the play.

Sound and lighting, by James Beck and director Tanya Caldwell, work in tandem to set scenes. Instrumental music covering the scene changes underlines the tone of the play, and lighting shifts to illuminate the section of stage in use or the area in front of the stage, where a fair amount of action takes place. It’s all very fluid and in keeping with the steady pace of the revelations that build and build to the play’s sobering conclusion.

Costumes work well enough for the 1960s time period, with even better costumes for flashbacks to WWII Germany. Props are a mixed bag, with vintage newspapers and magazines sharing the stage with modern-day Coke cans. It’s not the physical production that most impresses (although the wall covering is a pretty nifty design choice); it’s the story itself.

Tanya Caldwell has gotten wonderful performances out of the actors in the most dramatic moments of the play. Phyllis Giller, as a Holocaust survivor, has a couple of compelling scenes, and Robert Stevens Wayne impresses throughout, culminating in a scene of mea culpa that can bring tears to the eyes of the audience, not just to his. Hannah Hyde, so unimpressive as the waitress, shines as WWII wife Golda, in a transcendent performance that is pure and sweet and heartbreaking.

The more mundane sections of the script are accompanied by competent, but less compelling performances. Lory Cox is pretty much wasted in the small role of a wife. Lee Buechele and Alex Parkinson portray two Jewish elders with divergent views, with Mr. Parkinson’s intensity impressive in his darker moments. Sofia Palmero and Joseph Edward Johnson seem a bit young for their roles, but handle the love interest that complicates their mutual investigation into the past. All the performances feed into the driving force that leads the play to its sobering conclusion.

There seem to be a couple of loose ends in the story. A shooting and name are mentioned at the time Lindental was imprisoned near the end of WWII, but the mentions don’t seem to go anywhere. The condition of "human pets" -- Jewish prisoners who were kept alive and on hand in concentration camps due to special skills, like piano tuning -- comes into the plot a couple of times, but not in a way that consciously ties the references together. But the main thrust of the story comes through with depth and clarity, bringing into question just who in the play is innocent of being a "Jew catcher" (one who informed on secreted Jews to the Gestapo). Are cowardice and complicity one and the same thing? Mr. Fisher’s play gets us to question that equivalence. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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