Finding Light in the Darkness
It’s not every day that theatre audiences at Principia College are greeted at the door by a man in a Nazi uniform. After being asked gruffly for “papers” (tickets), audience members were led by ushers in period costumes through an intentionally crooked, makeshift hallway crafted from rough plywood covered in World War II propaganda posters. Once seated, the audience faced an ingeniously sparse set—the backdrop for a story of survival and the triumph of good over evil.
Thus began Principia College’s recent production of Sabina Zimering’s memoir, Hiding in the Open, adapted for the stage by Kira Obolensky. Hiding in the Open tells the gripping story of a thoughtful, Jewish teenager named Sabina and her resilient, younger sister, Helka, both of whom survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Catholics. With forged identity papers, they escaped the ghettos of Poland and ended up “hiding in the open” as immigrant workers in Germany. On a number of occasions, the girls eluded detection despite coming face to face with the SS, all the while staying true to the spirit of their dignified and gracious upbringing. In fact, the virtue that brought the play to Principia’s stage was the girls’ ability to navigate the desperation and dread of their situation and emerge with their kindness, compassion, and humanity intact.
In her Director’s Notes, Professor Chrissy Calkins Steele explained the lasting impact of the production on the actors: “Our work on this play has made us more aware of the individual stories of real people, not just learning facts in a history class. As a cast we have asked ourselves, ‘What is our responsibility for the events of the past and for what is happening in the world today?’ We must have the moral courage to address any error that comes to our attention. As evidenced by this story, one person really can make a difference.”
Sabina was played with impressive emotional dexterity by senior theater major Lila Morse, who commented, “For me, this play isn’t about loss but rather about how we need to fight for love and truth as a community.” Referring to the cast’s and crew’s metaphysical preparation—both individually and collectively—she added, “This play demanded that we approach it from the basis of Christian Science.”
Costume designer Leah McFall dressed the cast convincingly in a muted palette of tans and browns that supported the dismal and care-worn mood of the story. The efficient and eerie sparseness of the set and props, along with the somber tones of the lighting designed by Patrick McCreary, encouraged the viewer to participate in the illusion and strengthened the empathetic bond between the characters and audience.
Yet amidst all the bleakness, there was light. Gabriel Hudson, a habitually cheerful freshman from Austin, Texas, who played a menacing character named Frank, pointed this out. “I feel blessed to have been a part of this show—to have seen the light in something so dark,” he commented with a smile.