Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Shoe Room
The shoe room in the museum contains 4,000 shoes from the Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. (The museum in Lublin holds many thousand more shoes.) More than 18,000 Jews were executed there on one day, November 3, 1943. If that is not the all-time height of atrocity, I don't know what is.
I like shows that teach you something and prompt you to look things up, which then leads to looking up other things, and you soon realize how much you don't know. The Shoe Room is basically a chronological series of vignettes in which scenes from the Nazi era, 1933 to 1945, are acted out or danced out. Some of this history is familiar to many of us: The expulsion of Jews from their places of work; Kristallnacht; the kindertransport of Jewish children to England; the concentration camp at Terezin; the extermination of not just Jews but also the Roma and the disabled (no mention of homosexuals, though). But there is a lot more that made me do some research afterwards: What was the German National Catechism? What were the Nuremberg laws? What happened on the Night of the Long Knives? What was the Abwehr and the July 20 plot? And who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
Cheri, who wrote and directed the show, intersperses scenes from the life of Bonhoeffer throughout the play. This is the only through-line; all the other characters appear in one or two scenes and then are heard no more. Bonhoeffer's story is drama enough. An anti-Nazi German Christian theologian, he actually returned to Germany during the war from the United States, saying that he would not be able to preach Christianity to the Germans after the war if he had not lived through it with them. He never had the chance. He was accused of participation, however tangential, in an attempt to assassinate Hitler and was hanged less than a month before the end of the war, at age 39. He wrote a lot of books in his short life, but is known now for being credited with the ever-relevant phrase "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless."
It's sorrow upon sorrow in this show, but there are a few light-hearted moments too. Since elite is a dance troupe as well as a theatrical troupe, there are dances scattered here and there. Early on, there is a classical ballet scene, culminating in one of the dancers being told that she must leave the theater because she is Jewish. She makes the disastrous (as we know, but she doesn't) decision to go live with relatives in Poland. There is a gypsy dance by some of the Roma who haven't been rounded up yet. There is even a jitterbug scene to "In the Mood" in the U.S. that is interrupted by news of the Pearl Harbor attack. The dancing, in various styles, is all very well performed.
There is more dialogue and less dance in this show than in most elite showswhich requires good actors. Directed here by Cara Sowers and Cheri, this is the best-acted show I've seen elite do. They made the bold decision to have everyone, children included, speak in German accents. This could easily backfire, but just about everybody pulls it off well. I really hesitate to single out any of the actors, since all were very good, but Steve Corona (Bonhoeffer), Anthony Baldonado, Dean Metzgar, Alicia Swanson, Cara Sowers, and all of the children impressed me a lot. An added bonus is the best performance by a baby (9 months old) that you will ever see.
Until The Shoe Room, all of Cheri's work has been innovative adaptations of well-known stories: "Cinderella," "Peter Pan," "Dracula," "The Scarlet Letter," "The Picture of Dorian Gray," etc. In some sense, this show is an adaptation too, from history and from a book about Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. But, unlike elite's earlier work, it's not a story that we all know already. You might think you know enough about the Holocaust, but if you're like me, you don't. See this show and educate yourself.
The Shoe Room by Cheri Costales is being presented by elite Dance and Theatre at the North 4th Theatre. 4904 4th Street NW in Albuquerque NM, just north of Griegos. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00. Through September 16, 2017. Info at www.elitedancetheatre.net. Tickets $16 on Thursday; $22 on Friday and Saturday (which includes some food at intermission).