By Sam Mooney
The North American premiere of Our Class is produced by studio 180 in association with Canadian Stage. The play, first published in 2009, was written by Tadeusz Slobodzianek and this excellent translation is by Ryan Craig.
The play takes an unemotional approach to horror, no sugar coating and no histrionics. It was an emotional evening but I didn’t feel that I was being exploited, something I’ve experienced at other plays.
“Our Class explores the events leading up to a dark moment in history and follows the fortunes of ten one-time classmates from one century into the next. This haunting play is a courageous examination of loyalty and treason, individual bravery and collective cowardice and the actions that ripped apart a small community during the Second World War.”
It’s difficult to separate the play – the production and the performances – from the story and I’m not sure that I can do it but it’s a disservice to the play and the production to focus on who did exactly what to how many. Sadly it’s a universal story and could have been set in the Middle East or Africa or parts of the former USSR or many other conflict zones. Of course it raises the question “What would I have done” and that’s not something I’m ever likely to know. In the play the characters ask “What could I do?” and answer with variations of “Everyone was watching” or “I didn’t know”.
This is a remarkable production. There are no props, the stage is bare except for nine chairs and three benches. The characters wear the same costumes throughout the play. It’s a production that calls for outstanding acting ability and the cast delivers. There is violence but the characters don’t touch each other, murder with no blood, rapes but no one’s clothes are in disarray. There is a crown scene with one character. There are fight scenes where the characters are standing five feet away from each other.
The entire cast is on stage during the play. When someone isn’t part of the immediate action they sit or stand at the back or along the sides of the stage. They are still involved and still part of the story.
The story is told in 14 scenes and a series of monologues. Sometimes there are two characters doing the same monologues, taking turns in a way that was a choreography of words. Timing is crucial in order for an approach like this to work and it was perfect.
There were two particularly powerful moments, one when Abram reads a list of his family members who were killed in Poland and the other when he reads a list of his family who were at his wife’s funeral in America. My friend Pat felt that the ultimate message was that after the horror what we have left is family, that’s what continues.
Our Class deals with a harrowing topic and it’s an amazing play, theatre at its best. I highly recommend it.
– Our Class is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street) until April 30th
– Performances are at 8 pm Monday through Saturday with a matinee on Wednesdays at 1.30 and Saturday at 2 pm
– Ticket prices range from $43.00 to $49.00 with a limited number of PWYC available on Monday evening
– Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-368-3110 or online
Photo details: The ensemble, photo by John Karastamatis