Praise for Coming to See Aunt Sophie
“Where was G-d during the Holocaust?” asks the filmmaker to legendary Polish Catholic hero Jan Karski, in Arthur Feinsod’s new play Coming To See Aunt Sophie.The more important question, poses Karski, is rather, “where was man?” This hits at the very core of this moving play, based on the incredible true story of Jan Karski’s extraordinary mission to help save Polish Jewry and attempt to end the Holocaust.
- Deb Meyer, J-Wire READ MORE
Every now and then a story comes along that is so unbelievable, so inconceivable, that we wonder how it is possible that we have not heard it before. This is one such story. Following sold out performances in the US, Arthur Feinsod’s play Coming to See Aunt Sophie is now making its Australian debut in Sydney for a limited run. Based on Jan Karski’s best selling memoir Story of a Secret State, this is the extraordinary true story of a how one man refused to turn away in the face of evil, and his unfaltering determination to inform a world that would not listen, of the atrocities he had witnessed.
- What's-my-scene Australia READ MORE
Coming to See Aunt Sophie captures the essence of Jan Karski's nobility. Watching the play was a deeply moving experience for me. It brought back memories of the hours I spent listening to Professor Karski discuss his wartime activities and his interpretation of them later in life. "Sophie"
is a worthy reflection of a great spirit.”
-- E. Thomas Wood
Co-author, Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust
...Kudos to all involved: writer, producer and actors/actresses. We have seen many plays and theatrical productions, but this one was simply the best and tops them all. The topic is a very timely one as we approach 70 years to the defeat of Hitler and the Nazis.
-- Eva Kor, Auschwitz survivor and Executive Director of the Candles Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana
-- Rainer Hoess, educator, political activist against Neo Nazi parties, and grandson of Rudolph Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz
What a joy to read this play!..
Perfectly splendid…. Deeply humane, truly theatrical, wonderful
handling of point of view.
-- Professor David Bevington, University of Chicago, World Renown Shakespeare Scholar, Editor of Bantam COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE
I read the play in one sitting... I was absolutely stunned. What a magnificent, moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking work...
What an amazing piece. You somehow managed to convey important historical information while constructing a complex character and interweaving them to create a moving story of contemporary significance. I don't know how you did it…”
-- Kiel Majewski, Executive Director, CANDLES Holocaust Museum
Thank you so very much for your play, Coming to See Aunt Sophie. We wonder if you would agree with this statement we read recently by Edward Albee: “In the two or three months that it takes one to write a play, I find that the reality of the play is a great deal more alive for me than what passes for reality.”
The play dealt with a terrible subject, but from it you created beauty. As Yeats would say, “A terrible beauty is born.” Much of the beauty comes from your imaginative dramatizing of historical realities with their terror and their heroism. Some long passages were so rhythmic and powerful that we felt we were hearing poetry. You led us through an emotional and challenging cast of characters and situations that showed us nobility in the face of frightening evil.
You provided the words and structure, but the performers were riveting in their presentations and stunning acting.
We came to see Coming to See Aunt Sophie, but we left seeing into our own history, hearts, and character.
-- Patrick and Genie Harkins [Patrick is a Professor Emeritus of English, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College]
At his coffin shortly before it was closed I made Jan Karski a promise that I will do everything I can to ensure that he never be forgotten. I kept my promise by establishing the Jan Karski Institute in Washington D.C., and the Jan Karski scholarship...given to 48 young people from Poland...Looking at your play I can say I kept my word. The world has not forgotten Jan Karski. I thank you very much, both for the Polish version and the English version of the play. Both are very good (and I'm saying that as a writer myself).
-- Kaya Mirecka Ploss, Director, Jan Karski Institute, Washington D.C.
The play…was awesome. The stage had only 6 actors , playing about 40 different characters. Their performance, their accents were brilliant.
I wish that a Chicago audience could see this play.”
-- Magda Brown, Hungarian Jew and Auschwitz survivor, and noted lecturer on the Holocaust
I first became acquainted with Jan Karski while working on the story of Polish WWII heroine Irena Sendler for a documentary film. For years I felt that the theater deserved a dramatic work about Karski, but who could write it? Only a writer who had the capacity to grasp the epic scope and tragic poetry of Karski's story. In a stroke of good fortune, I was re-aquainted with my old friend and university colleague Arthur Feinsod when I went to do a screening of my documentary in Indiana. I knew immediately that Arthur Feinsod had the sensitivity, talent and breadth and depth of experience to do a powerful rendering of Karski's life in all of its complexity. I begged him to take a look at Karski's "Story of the Secret State" and E. Thomas Wood's wonderful "Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust" and to consider writing a piece for the theater. Arthur was hooked on Karski immediately and he delivered a play that far exceeded what any of us could imagine, one that is bound to become a classic in the years to come. All of us who are close to the stories of great Polish heroes like Irena Sendler and Jan Karski are grateful to him and fortunate that he chose at that moment to help immortalize this noble man.
-- Mary Skinner, Filmmaker, IRENA SENDLER IN THE NAME OF THEIR MOTHERS
American Debut of Karski Play Draws Raves
Terre Haute, Indiana July 28, 2014
Andrew Behling and Jason Bowen (photo by Angelique Bokamea)
Coming to See Aunt Sophie, an original new production dramatizing Jan Karski's historical mission during World War II along with his lifelong agony over his perceived failure to compel the Allies to intervene on behalf of the doomed Jews of occupied Poland, finished a three-week run at Indiana State University's Crossroads Repertory Theatre on July 22.
A cast of seven actors -- five men and two women -- played a total of 50 roles by tricking out headdresses, scarves, accents and postures in scenes spanning six decades of the late Karski's life from his childhood in Lodz to his later years in Washington DC. Playwright Arthur Feinsod employed the device of a dialogue between the Old Karski, convincingly played by Brad Venable, and the Young Karski (Andrew Behling) to tell the story and to inject a dialectical exchange into his complicated narrative and history.
Additionally, Feinsod includes a character loosely based on French documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann (who famously interviewed Karski for his film Shoah in 1978) as one of the many characters coming from the ensemble. The Old Karski reluctantly grants an interview to the man he refers to as “Mr. Filmmaker,” much to the chagrin of his volatile wife Pola Nirenska Karski.
Behling stole the show in his portrayal of the Young Karski, showing a physicality and emotional intensity that transformed him from brilliant and idealistic young man to agonized actor pitting the strength of his will against the forces of inaction as demonstrated by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter's inability to believe Karski's report and President Franklin Roosevelt's from-on-high political grand-standing.
The Indiana audience was mesmerized by what they saw on stage, with many present having never heard of Karski or of the Polish Underground's significant and heroic efforts on behalf of the Allies during the war. Indiana University professor Dale McFadden directed the production.
"It was stunning," said Beth Tevlin, executive director of the Wabash Community Foundation, after the performance. "You were totally transported by the characters." Former social studies teacher and school board member Jackie Lower was inspired by the lessons Karski's life story can offer students in ethics, character education and social responsibility.
Plans are now in the works to bring the production to Chicago and elsewhere in the US. The play has already returned from a celebrated European run with productions in Mannheim, Germany in May, followed by performances in Lodz, Kielce, and Warsaw, Poland. The play was performed at the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. It was brought to Poland as part of the celebration of the Year of Karski by the Polish History Museum under the sponsorship of Museum Director Robert Kostro and Ewa Wierzynska, leader of the Jan Karski, Unfinished Mission educational and public awareness program.
In Terre Haute, the foundation was represented by President Wanda Urbanska and Board Member Bozena Nowicka McLees. "Arthur Feinsod is a gifted playwright," commented McLees. "He has captured so beautifully the complex story, as well as the intensity of Polish patriotism that Karski and his peers felt at the outbreak of World War II."
From George Walker, broadcast on WFIU, the Indiana National Public Radio affiliate...
Coming to See Aunt Sophie at the Crossroads Repertory Theatre in Terre Haute is a wonderfully dramatic, meaningful, involving and thought provoking play. Arthur Feinsod’s very well thought out and thought through play dramatizes the life of Jan Karski. He was a Polish Catholic who was a World War Two spy and courier for the underground. Karski password was “Coming to See Aunt Sophie,” as he carried the news of the ghettos and the concentration camps to England and America. In England despite a long wait, Karski failed to meet Churchill. He then came to America. While he did meet with President Roosevelt, Karski always blamed himself for being too awed and too polite to make the case to save the Jews more forcefully.
On the bare stage of Indiana State’s New Theatre it’s 1985 and Brad Venable as the seventy year old Karski is being filmed for a French documentary on his life. As he hesitantly speaks Andrew Behling joins him across the stage as the young Karski and four actors begin to appear as seventy of the various figures from his life. Molly LeCaptain is his frightened sister, a traitor, and a sympathetic nun. Rob Glidden is a peasant who takes him in and one of the Jews who persuades him of their peril. Jomar Ferreras is a Polish priest who gives the young Karski a communion wafer instead of a cyanide pill as a talisman and a Spanish border guard who helps him on his way. Julie Dixon is an inspiring Polish author and firebrand, and the older Karski’s vigilantly protective wife. Jason Bowen is the film maker, a rough Wild Bill Donovan of the war time OSS and, with just a pair of pince nez and an attitude, the awe inspiring FDR.
Coming to See Aunt Sophie with its small cast plays out on a bare but comfortable set. Two benches where the supporting players sit between scenes flank a table in the background. Katerina Papadatos’ costume elements and Rachelle martin Wilburn’s props are neatly arranged. There are just a couple of chairs in the foreground. The backdrop is a much battered wall decorated with swastikas, handbills and a replica of the sign that hung over the gate of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Scenic design is by Ann Warren. Bob Holton is the scenic artist.
Dale McFadden directs the older Karski, the young Karski and the four actors who play the seventy other parts of Coming to See Aunt Sophie with wonderful facility. The action flows from scene to scene as the actors don a hat or a scarf of a small bit of costume to take their parts. There are tense moments, relaxed moments and even just brief thoughtful pauses in action that always kept the audience’s attention and involvement. I especially enjoyed a couple of times when the older Karski and the younger Karski spoke to one another. The elder berating the younger for remembered brashness and the younger accusing the older of being too grown up. McFadden also directed the original production which had its premiere in Germany in May and then toured in Karski’s home country of Poland.