The author of “The Wardrobe” was in the audience at the Golden Chain Theatre for ‘opening night’ of his play May 1. Bill Strubbe wasn’t going to miss the first full production of the words he put to paper 20 years ago, driving from Oakland to Oakhurst.
The dramatic and moving play, set during WWII during the Nazi occupation of Poland, co-stars Jennifer Piccolotti as Magda, and 17-year-old Lyric Piccolotti as Elena.
“I arrived an hour before the show to meet the cast, and when I saw the stage for the first time, the wardrobe in the middle all lit up, I teared-up,” Strubbe said. “It is an amazing, and strange, feeling to finally see manifest into the physical world something near and dear to you that you have carried in your mind for so long. It was like meeting a dear friend, and in this case a long lost dear friend, since it took over 20 years to be produced. I also took a moment to acknowledge and send a blessing to those who suffered during the war.”
Elena, a fugitive Jew from the Warsaw Ghetto, is in search of a safe haven and her lost faith in God and humanity due to the horrors of the occupation. Jan, a Polish policeman played by Keith Treadaway, arranges for Elena to stay with Magda, a God-fearing Catholic, and her husband Stach, played by George Rich, and their baby.
All the scenes take place in the house, with the center piece being the ‘wardrobe’ armoire, where Elena spends a lot of time while in hiding from the Germans.
The two women’s relationship grows and deepens as the strain of the occupation, dwindling food supplies, the burning of the Jewish ghetto, and the Warsaw uprising presses upon the family.
Both Jennifer and Lyric Piccolotti deliver powerful performances. Lyric’s dramatic deliveries of emotional dialog is well beyond her years.
“Jennifer and Lyric are mature and experienced with a built-in chemistry being mother and daughter,” said James Mierkey, the show’s director. “Their strong performances help make the other actors that much better. This was the first time on stage for Judy Weiss, and Sage Brock, and they did a great job.”
“It’s (the story) real and powerful, and it’s hard for me to keep my composure during some of the scenes,” Lyric said.
Strubbe said it was a wonderful production with an excellent cast, especially the two lead women.
“The set was very close to what I imagined in my mind when I wrote the script, and although I hadn’t really given much thought to the costumes, they were perfect,” Strubbe said.
Mierkey added wrenching black and white historical photos and documentary footage from Warsaw 1942 - Devastating images of burned out buildings and bodies on the ground, killed at the hands of German soldiers shown on a large screen.
“Those images grounded the story and helped place the apartment where the play happens into the larger context of the city of Warsaw that was eventually reduced to rubble,” Strubbe said.
Audience member Mary Ann Parks said the show was very professional and very moving.
“You know about these bad things in history, but to see it brought to life on stage was a moving, and touching experience,” Parks said.
Strubbe said he wrote the play after being inspired from a single sentence in the book “When Light Pierced the Darkness,” about Catholic Poles who hid Jewish people during the war.
“Actually, the play popped in an instant almost fully formed in my head, and I wrote it within three weeks,” Strubbe said.
The show is rated PG due to mild language and theme, and runs weekends through May 17. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. (no show on Mother’s Day).
Details: (559) 683-7112, Tickets available at goldenchaintheatre.org, box office hours Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.