Two Planks and a Passion Theatre tours play about flight of Jewish refugees from Germany
Actors Alexis Milligan, left, and Chris O’Neill are cast members in 937, which is being toured by Two Planks and a Passion Theatre of Canning. - Submitted
Canning’s Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company will stop in Wolfville while touring Nova Scotia with the award-winning theatre production 937.
Created by Michael McPhee, Alexis Milligan, Chris O’Neill and Ken Schwartz, 937 is a unique piece of drama about a defining moment in history: the flight of Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939. The Wolfville performance is set for April 29.
The number 937 refers to the number of passengers aboard the ocean liner St. Louis, which left Hamburg, Germany for Cuba in 1939. The purpose of the voyage was a desperate one, as nearly all of the 937 passengers were Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany for the relative safety of Cuba.
Armed with visas and what they could carry with them, they were leaving for good. What followed was a rollercoaster of dashed hopes and callousness as many nations refused to accept the passengers. No country, Canada included, would accept nearly a thousand Jewish refugees. The St. Louis was turned away from every port where it sought asylum, including Halifax, and was forced to return with all its passengers to Germany. Hundreds of these passengers died in the Holocaust. The actual number of deaths will never be known.
The inspiration for 937 came from the artifacts that have been preserved worldwide so future generations can comprehend, in some way, the incomprehensible.
“As creators, we asked ourselves, ‘What if these artifacts could speak? Not with words, but through movement? What stories could they tell’,” asks director Schwartz.
In the play, a group of performers enter a space to discover old luggage covered in dust and blankets. As they quietly open trunks and suitcases, they discover clothing, photos, shoes and hats. These artifacts somehow demand articulation, and one by one, the family emerges from hiding. Through precise puppetry and a wordless soundscape, a story that is narratively clear and emotionally immediate emerges.
“It’s the story of one family- a young Jewish couple and their small boy - who attempt to escape Germany on the St. Louis. Visa in hand, they board the ship with great hope. Over several weeks, the stark reality - that no nation will accept them - slowly emerges and they return to Germany and a terrible fate,” said Schwartz.
In development since the fall of 2012, an earlier version of 937 won the best drama and fringe hit awards at the Atlantic Fringe Festival in the fall of 2013.
With support from the Atlantic Jewish Council and the Nova Scotia department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Arts Nova Scotia and the Canada Council for the Arts, 937 will be touring schools and public venues in April and May. Public performances are booked in Yarmouth, Halifax and Truro. It will also be staged at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville at 8 p.m. on April 29.
The company will be performing for over 2,000 students in schools and theatres on the tour.