EXCERPTS FROM THE ARTICLE
Below are excerpts from the May 17, 2018 feature from The Washington Post by Kristen Page-Kirby on The Book of Joseph.
‘THE BOOK OF JOSEPH’ IS TIMELY. THE PLAYWRIGHT DIDN'T INTEND IT TO BE.
The Hollander family, save one, did not survive the Holocaust. What did survive were the letters they wrote to Joseph Hollander — the one who managed to escape the Nazis. Those real-life letters make up “Every Day Lasts a Year,” a book by Richard Hollander (Joseph’s son) that has been adapted into “The Book of Joseph,” a play having its East Coast premiere at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.
Joseph’s letters to his mother, sisters and niece were lost with the family. But the ones he received make up a good percentage of the play’s dialogue.
“I set some ground rules that the people who have passed away would only show up in their own words,” says playwright Karen Hartman. “When you have a letter, the play never adds to it. When there are gaps, the gaps are left so you really feel that sense of fragmentation.”
In the letters, the Hollanders write about their hopes and plans for the future — and they also complain about food shortages, the stress of being moved into ever-smaller and more crowded apartments (and eventually to the Krakow ghetto) and the weather, which always seems to be too hot or too cold.
“We have to treat them as messy, as flawed, just to make them vivid and real and authentic,” director Noah Himmelstein says. “In making them complicated, messy people who are just trying to get to the next day, we are honoring them, rather than saying they’re gold statues.”
While Joseph spends much of his time in New York trying to get visas for his family to leave Poland and go anywhere else, he lives with the constant threat of deportation. After all, Joseph is undocumented, doesn’t speak English and is a member of a group that many, if not most, people thought wouldn’t assimilate well into American society. “The Book of Joseph” is a story playing out not only on Everyman’s stage, but daily on the nightly news and front pages across the country as America again decides which immigrant groups get to cross the border.
“What separates the refugees we ‘fear’ and the refugees we ‘want’ is a line that always keeps changing,” Hartman says.
And since she began work on the play in 2012, she’s seen that change in the world at large.
“These immigrations have cycled back in a way that is unwelcome to me,” she says. “In 2012 [the play] had to fight for its timeliness. I think now it has to fight less.”