The Last Rat of Theresienstadt is one woman’s struggle to survive during the Holocaust. The play incorporates the song lyrics, visual art and poetry that was produced by the many prominent artists imprisoned in the “Ghetto Town” of Terezín, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, also known by the German name Theresienstadt.
We open our show with an audacious performance by the “acclaimed,” Sofia Brünn, a fictional singer/comedienne, in a 1930’s Weimar Cabaret. We follow her as she is deported from Berlin to Theresienstadt where she is forced to work in the camp kitchen. Imprisoned, Sofia has lost everything and with it, her will to live. There, she meets a scrappy rat named Pavel. The other rats have left the town for lack of food, but Pavel stays behind, drawn to the performances in the camp. He desperately needs her to sing again for his own will to live. She is repulsed by him and he, in turn, blurts out insults he has over heard describing Jews. Over time they befriend each other and bond over their love of the cabaret.
The Last Rat is a black comedy, low tech, multi-media play with music and three performers. We use tabletop puppetry with a rod/bunraku style puppet (our titular Rat), shadow puppetry (a comic duo), overhead projections (artwork from the camp to set the scene and illustrate a landscape for our story), and music. Our composer has added new music to songs that were originally written and performed in the camp but whose scores were lost. Using comedy and drama, we tell the story of Sofia and Pavel, follow the journey of a pair of Vaudevillian emcees in the Attic Cabaret, and illustrate how the Nazis used this ghetto town as a model camp to prove to the world that they were “taking care” of the Jews and giving them a “home.”
The play explores how humor and art can heal and create resilience in the face of adversity. Pavel is, in fact, a figment of Sofia’s imagination, the part of her buried deep inside that wants to fight back. Ironically, her imagination has created an alter ego in the very form of the hated rodent species that the Nazis compared to Jews. While the subject matter is the Holocaust, whose victims we honor through remembrance of that time, our themes are very relevant today, with anti-Semitism on the rise and bigotry and racism creating chasms between people struggling to live as neighbors in countries all over the world.
This is a story of prejudice and oppression juxtaposed against survival, joy and the will to feed both body and soul. It’s a story of humor, art and a rat who is forever changed.
Lalka Tez Cztowiek Puppet Fest, Warsaw, Poland
Jury Grand Prize, Student Jury Prize, Audience Prize, A Moment of Beauty in Puppetry
Thank you for taking on such an important topic for me. For the first time, the border between reality and art blurred. I am glad that there are people like you and that I could meet you. (pol9ish audience member)
So funny and insightful, nearly tear-jerking.
The two goofs, Yitz and yak, were wonderfully funny and made me cry in the end.
The trauma and hurt was beautifully contained in the comedic content.
The show really moved me. Thank you for making this.
The depth of grief and the strength of the human spirit to be uplifted by care and respect, even from a rat really stood out to me.
I loved how the original music worked so meaningfully with your piece.
Using humor to cope with the terror had such dignity.
I appreciated the contrast throughout the play with the various types of puppetry, music, comedy and horror.
Head Writer/Actor/Devisor – Hilary Chaplain tours internationally with A LIFE IN HER DAY, directed by Avner Eisenberg, and in variety shows worldwide with her short comic numbers. Awards include Arlekin Solo Puppet Festival (Grand Prize), the XXI International Festival “Valise” (Acting Award) both in Poland, and in Havana, Cuba at Aquelarre 2006 (three Awards including the Grand Prize). Hilary was an original cast member in Bill Irwin’s Largely/New York and appeared on Broadway in the Public Theatre production of The Tempest directed by George C. Wolfe. She played a featured role in Forrest Gump, and a lawyer on Law and Order Criminal Intent. Hilary entertained children in NYC hospitals as “Nurse Nice” of the renowned Big Apple Circus Hospital Clown Program® (since 1987) and is a founding member of the New York Goofs, a clown ensemble.
Director/Devisor – Nancy Smithner is a performer, teacher and director. She has been teaching Physical Theatre, Acting, Mime, and Directing for the Program in Educational Theatre since 1986. She has also taught at many other venues such as Tisch School of the Arts; Playwrights Horizons, Circle in the Square Theatre School, School for Movement Research, the New York Dance Intensive, the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Soongsil University in Seoul, Korea. As a director, she specializes in devised theatre.
Puppeteer/Maker/Devisor – Jason Hicks, Trashville, is a self-taught puppeteer, trombone player, and print maker. Hicks co-founded the RPM Puppet conspiracy (2001-present), The Flying Donkey Theater (2009-present) the Semi-Upright Puppet Collective (2005-Present), the Boxcutter Cabaret and has worked for the Bread & Puppet Theater as a puppeteer and the band leader for the past decade, writing, building & touring puppet shows around the US and overseas. He began working with Papel Machete in 2012 in NYC and Puerto Rico and with the Flying Donkey Theater co-founder, Federica Colina. Jason has worked in numerous schools, universities and institutions around the Eastcoast, building puppet shows of all sizes with various communities.
Puppeteer/Maker/Devisor – Ariel Lauryn has performed with The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (Acorn Theater), The Talking Band, Columbia Stages, Stegosaurus Theater, LES Shakespeare and Co., The Ume Group, and Lady Fest at The Tank. She creates original works, ranging from slapstick shorts (Dixon Place, Bindlestiff Variety Show) to a webseries, Illuminutty, to a physical comedy one-act, Whether We Like It or Not. Puppet-wise, she builds, performs, and teaches with The Puppet Kitchen, has created pieces and performed for Puppet Playlist (Sinkingship Productions, Triskelion Arts), puppeteered for the short film The Neverbell, and hand-acted in web commercials with VaynerMedia.
Puppeteer/Maker/Devisor Mindy Escobar-Leanse is an actor/puppeteer who collaborates with many companies around NYC. Some of these include: The Puppet Kitchen, Puppet Shakespeare Players, Exquisite Corpse Company and One Blue Cat Productions. She is also a resident company member of the Wildlife Theatre bringing environmental education to kids all around the 5 boroughs.
Composer/Musician – Sergei Dreznin is a Moscow-born New York –based austro–russian award winning concert pianist and composer. He has performed in venues such as the Vienna Konzerthaus, Moscow’s House of Music and the Teatro Olympico in Vicenza. He is a welcomed guest at international music gatherings – Bard Festival, Julian Rachlin and Friends, Annecy classic… He has had 17 shows produced on stages in Paris, Vienna, Moscow, Madrid and New York. They include Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo, 9.11 – the Witness and YAMA – the whorehouse musical. His musical epic Catherine the Great has been running in Russia over 10 years to sold-out houses and has won the Golden Mask – Russia’s Tonys. At present, 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman is touring Spain. In 1992, Segrei Dreznin was invited by a Viennese writer, actor and director to revive the legendary cabaret from the Ghetto Terezin, Songs and Satire from Theresienstadt which has toured around German-speaking countries, and was produced in the US and in France.
Lighting Designer – Sabrina Hamilton co-founded and is the Artistic Director of the Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst, MA. For many years she worked with the New York theatre company Mabou Mines as Lighting Designer, Production Manager, Stage Manager, Performer, and Assistant Director. She has spent much of the past several years touring with Sandglass Theater. as the lighting designer for their production of D-GENERATION: An Exaltation of Larks, the show that closed Ko’s season on “Age & Aging.”
Set Designer – Judy Gailen most recently designed the sets for The Niceties at Portland Stage Company, Love & Information, The Threepenny Opera, Krazy Kat, and Sondheim on Sondheim at Bowdoin College (where she is Adjunct Lecturer in Design in the Theater & Dance Department), Precious Little for The Nora Theatre Company) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Our Country’s Good and Marie & the Nutcracker at Bates College, the premiere of Oceanside for Merrimack Rep, Carmen and La Bohème for PORTopera, and Giulio Cesare for Wolf Trap Opera. Other recent credits include The Summer in Gossensass and Enjoy for Bates College, the sets & costumes for Memory House at Merrimack Rep and Two Jews Walk into a War at Geva Theatre Center, and sets for Ten Blocks on the Camino Real and Aimez-Vous Ionesco with Beau Jest Moving Theater (Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival). A graduate of The Yale Drama School, Judy was awarded a 2003 Maine Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship for artistic excellence.
Dramaturge – Stephen Ringold Stephen is an N.E.A./Rockefeller Foundation grant recipient for his exploration of collaboration between the fine arts and performing arts. His original works for theatre and circus have been produced in festivals, theaters, and arenas in the Far East, the Middle East, across Eastern and Western Europe, and throughout the United States. He assistant directed for the 1997 Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Dario Fo, in Mr. Fo’s production of Il Barbarie De Savilia, at the Dutch National Opera House. As an actor he has appeared in the title role of Elizabeth Swados’ award-winning musical Job, as Krogstad in the Other Theatre’s A Doll’s House, as Creon in Jean Anouigh’s Antigone at Primary Stages, and in numerous other Off-Broadway and regional performances.
Special Thanks to the Kō Festival of Performance for our first Artist Residency, to Amanda Huotari and the Celebration Barn Artist Residency program which helped get it finished. And to the The Tank NYC for our first NY works in progress performance. We are forever grateful.