`Ghetto' Blends Stark Images, Moving Portrayals

Article excerpt

The Webster University Conservatory production of "Ghetto" is one of those rare instances in which all the elements of theater come together in a superb realization of a compelling script.

The play by Joshua Sobol has a grim setting, the Vilna ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Sobol wastes no time in portraying the horror of Nazi persecution. In the opening scene, a German officer, Kittel, accosts a Jewish woman on the street. Jami Lee Gertz convincingly sustains the woman's terror, while Jake Schneider brings out the pleasure that Kittel derives from his power.

The relationship between this victim and this persecutor is one of the simplest in the play. To survive, the woman submits completely to Kittel's will. Other questions of survival force the characters to make difficult choices. The responses are varied, for example, when Kittel tells the Jews to set up a theater company. Some see the theater as a means of survival, while others object to the idea of theater in a graveyard. One of the performers is Srulik, a ventriloquist. As in many other contexts, speaking through a dummy lets the ventriloquist say things he could not say as himself. In "Ghetto," this device is unusually powerful because candor is potentially fatal and because the dummy is not a dummy but another member of the Conservatory cast. Scott Haden as Srulik, and Patrick W. Blindauer as the dummy give extraordinary dramatic impact to the ventriloquism scenes. Collaborating with the Nazis to produce theater is one thing. …