THE LAST CYCLIST was a Mainstage Production of the Elmhurst College Theatre (in Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago) in April-May, 2015. Directed by Andrew Behling, it was exciting, imaginative, energetic, moving and evocative of the magic that theatrical productions in Terezín must have been able, at their best, to create. The costumes, designed by Grace Bellino, all looked appropriately “period,” zany, shabby and conceivably put together from clothing brought with them by prisoners when they were deported to the camp. Bedsheets (apparently available in quantity in Terezín because they were used as “winding sheets”) served many purposes in the set design, some of which – backdrops, room dividers, silhouette screens – can be seen in the photographs reproduced here:
The scenic designer, Rick Arnold, Jr. also created a marvelous poster for the production.
Mark Podwal’s iconic illustration for the play appears on the ticket design – a nice attention to detail.
Among other charming touches was the wind-up phonograph which was hand-cranked by one or another cast member to lend verisimilitude each time the (recorded) incidental music began.
The program included the following “Director’s Note,” written by Andrew Behling:
History can be so strange. It seems to offer us perspectives just as it takes perspective away. History, when presented as a linear narrative, endows events with coherence, meaning, irony, and the occasional sense that there is a greater fate manipulating each occurrence. However, a moment in time “then” was just as a moment in time is “now”: actions and re-actions occurring right on the brink of great unknowns.
We know a great deal about the atrocities of the Holocaust. We know the staggering statistics (an estimated death toll of 5,962,129). We know the monstrous and methodical procedures used to eliminate the Jewish population throughout Europe. We know a fair amount about the history and motivations of the men who ordered, organized, and carried out the Final Solution. The people in this play do not. The people in this play do not know where they are headed. They have not seen the photographs. They have not seen the statistics. They do not have our hindsight. The characters in this play have only the present. Their past was torn away; their future is a looming mystery without any certainties.
How do these people survive? How do they process their incomprehensible situation? How do they combat the pressing temptation to yield and abandon hope? They laugh. They point and they laugh.
Laughter’s not only a ward against despair. It’s also a weapon – a weapon available to everyone. Laughter can weaken the mythos behind those in power. It shatters the illusion that anyone is untouchable. It’s much easier to dethrone a King when the King is made a Fool.
We do not live in the Europe of 1944 but we do still live in a world where people with poisonous intentions seek power. Those who seek it with the most fervor are, so often, filled with as much nonsensical hatred as they are ambition. Times change but human nature does not.
We are performing this play to honor the memories of the artists of Terezín and we are performing this play in protest of all forms of hate and discrimination.
May your laughter empower their spirits and strengthen your courage.
“May their memory be for blessing.”