By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer
As she traveled with playwright Tadeusz Slobadzianek through the Czech Republic and Poland last summer, Blanka Zizka, founding director of the Wilma Theater, noticed that many of the towns they passed through were full of vivid posters advertising theater, concerts, and other activities. But their destination, Jedwabne – on which Slobadzianek modeled the town in his play Our Class, whose central event is the 1941 massacre of its Jews – impressed her only with the vacuity of its cultural life.
“What I found important,” Zizka says, “was to be able to inhale the same air, to see the landscape, the surprising flatness of it, the misery of the small places, the void of the Jewish presence, the overgrown Jewish graveyards . . . .”
Our Class, now in previews, opens its U.S.-premiere production Wednesday night at the Wilma, with Zizka directing Ryan Craig’s English version.
The play’s first act fictionalizes real events through the eyes of 10 schoolchildren, from the 1920s to the July day in 1941 when Jedwabne’s Jews were forced into a barn that was then burned to the ground. The second half follows the survivors in post-wartime through the turn of this century.