DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – A woman from the 1940s speaks.
She is with a suitcase.
The words are personal as she looks straight into the eyes of individual listeners in kind of truth to truth.
First, she is in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The war is in its third year, and she wonders when it will end.
As she tells about needs for comforting of her mind, we hear about her psychiatrist – his mention of her yellow star, his appearance and their episodes of sex.
Some of the words of Etty Hillesum are tell-all – from her diary.
Others are from letters, from a time leading to her days at a camp in Holland that for Jews that was a stop before the last stop, Auschwitz and the like.
What Etty tells is a window on one woman’s mind in the grip of inhumanity.
The view includes bits of beauty – purple lupines gathered by a guard and standing in heather – and train cars stuffed with people, some of whom reach out through slats as the train begins its journey.
It is quite the journey on which the play “Etty” takes the audience.
And that is half the story that was told Sunday night in Dudley Birder Hall of St. Norbert College in a presentation hosted by the college’s Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Public Understanding.
The center hosted actor Susan Stein in her performance of “Etty,” followed by a session in which she asked questions of the audience and the audience asked questions of her.
“Etty” creates a picture in personal ways – as diaries do.
In the play, Etty Hillesum is in her 20s and adult in physical wants and level of intellect. Add her situation as a Jew in the stifling, ever enclosing, ways of German Nazism, and the play is stoked with powerhouse moments.
And then, in the second half, Susan Stein took on a detailed analytical examination the play, her role in its creation with director Austin Pendleton and elements surrounding the Holocaust.
The session was a reminder that nothing is simple in life, except for those who prefer only black and white.
Susan Stein exudes the aura of someone wholly committed to a unique dynamic – creation of a persona who has become an example voice amid inhumanity. High level stuff.
“I am a fake,” Susan Stein said in the second half. As all actors are, yes. But as a singular person of superior performance intellect, no – and thus a perfect fit for the goals of the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Public Understanding.
NEXT (for Norman Miller Center): “Mighty Be Our Powers: Investing in the Next Generation of Peacebuilders” with Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, 7 p.m. April 12, Walter Theatre.
THE VENUE: Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College is located in the former St. Boniface Church at the corner of Fourth and Grant streets in De Pere. It’s a multi-purpose space. Seating accommodates approximately 200 persons. The walls and towering arches of the former church are painted cream white. Above are acoustical clouds. The raised stage is spacious and airy. Dudley Birder Hall was dedicated in January 2013. The St. Boniface building dates to the late 1800s and is a landmark for its classical exterior and clock tower.
THE PERSON: Known for an outgoing personality, enthusiasm and attention to detail, Dudley Birder started on the St. Norbert faculty in 1958. He founded Music Theatre in 1962. The Collegiate Chorale and the Swinging Knights show group were his other creations. Dudley Birder produced musicals for the college and community into 2017 and concerts into 2018. After Birder retired from teaching, he continued as conductor of the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College and artistic director of Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. He fully retired June 1, 2018.