By Isabel Pinnell '21, Arts & Entertainment Editor for The Wicket
On Nov. 22, 23, and 24, the Visitation Masqueraders will put on the fall play “Letters to Sala,” by Arlene Hutton, based on the book “Sala’s Gift” by Ann Kirschner. The play tells the story of Ann’s discovery of her mother Sala’s secret letters from Nazi labor camps during the Holocaust. Ann discovers a heritage she did not know she had, and Sala relives her experiences in the camps through the letters.
The story is told on a split stage: one side is Sosnowiec, Poland in 1941, and the other is New York City in 2005. The audience sees both versions of Sala: the sixteen-year-old girl during World War II and the elderly woman remembering the past and how it shaped her life.
Neptune Pringle III, Visitation’s Director of Performing Arts and the director of “Letters to Sala,” chose this play because he felt it was a story that really needed to be shared. “As a person who was directly affected by 9/11, to hear and see young people that just don’t have any understanding [of such global tragedies], that hurts, and also thinking about how this must feel for a Holocaust survivor as well. I think that … students will see some of themselves in the characters [and] see correlations to some powerful and inspiring women.”
Pringle plans to approach the play “with sensitivity, clarity, and honesty,” he said.“This is something that shouldn’t be sugar-coated, and we are not trying to look at the situation through rose-colored lenses.”
However, said Pringle, “We are actually trying to approach the show from a joyous view. Although the show may have some somber moments, it is about perseverance, hope, and faith, and just overcoming the odds. To see this young girl, be transported to seven different camps, you also see scenes of her birthday being celebrated there. We are not approaching this like some folks may think, from a sad point of view.”
The Visitation Masqueraders have been working hard in rehearsal to tell Sala’s story and perfect their roles. Lucia Rathke `21 plays Ala, a prosperous Jewish woman who becomes a mentor figure for Sala. “I really admire [Ala] because she’s so steadfast and keeps her wits about her, even when she has no clue what’s going on. She always tries to prioritize other people and do what’s best for everyone even when it puts her at risk,” said Rathke.
Since the topic of the play can be difficult and emotional, Rathke said that “everyone’s really serious when it comes to the sensitive parts of the play, but there are also moments which are more lighthearted, especially since it’s told in two narratives [of] the past and the present. We still try to always be respectful when telling the story.”
Ellie Rubin `21 is a member of the costume department in the tech crew. She and her fellow costume-makers have been diligently working for the past several weeks to create clothes all by themselves with sewing machines. The students did heavy research work about the camps where Sala was taken in order to create a historically accurate wardrobe.“We ended up finding that although the prisoners at those camps didn’t wear the stereotypical striped uniforms,” said Rubin.“We had to make our own ideas of what we wanted the audience to see [which is why we did end up including the striped uniforms]. We tried to combine the historical aspect with our own interpretations.”
To see “Letters to Sala,” tickets can be purchased on the school website, www.visi.org/showtickets, or at the door on the show nights.
Said Pringle, “You’re going to want to come see it because it is victorious. At the end, you will stand and applaud, not just for the great work of the cast and crew, but also for [all the characters] who strove and persevered.”