Thank You, Mr. Greenblatt

The Stroop Report is a staged version of one of the darkest—and ultimately most liberating—chapters in recent human history: the rebellion among Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Written by Texas resident Robert Preston Jones, the play is light on characterization but tells its story well without sparing any of the gripping details of a hopelessly outnumbered group of rebels daring to stand up to the Nazis. With strong acting and thoughtful direction, it could be a quite enthralling play.

Unfortunately, Spare Change Productions (SCP), the company behind this world-premiere production of Jones' play, lacks the theatrical skill necessary to make the material truly spring to life. The company should be applauded for such a risky undertaking, and its heart is in the right place. But its efforts ultimately hinder the material. Uneven acting, lax direction, atrocious costuming and technical problems throughout continually wrench the viewer away from what should be an intensely claustrophobic, taut tale.

But while SCP is still in the process of maturing, there's no denying it possesses a keen sense of occasion. Even though opening night felt rough, it was one of the most affecting nights I've experienced in the theater —or anywhere else. In attendance that night was a man named Joseph Greenblatt, an Anaheim resident who served as an adviser to the play. He was an officer in the Polish army when Germany invaded Poland; he later became a key member of the ghetto uprising.

After the play ended, Greenblatt made his way to the stage, his simple brown suit making him look like any neatly dressed senior citizen out for a night of theater. But his 10-minute speech, though not particularly eloquent or even focused, was profoundly stirring. Here was a flesh-and-blood reminder that the events of the previous two hours were much more than a play.

At a time when the world was deaf, Greenblatt said, a group of teenagers dared to stand up before the awesome power of the Third Reich. France was beaten, Great Britain was under a hail of bombs, Russia was still sleeping with the Nazis, and America was doing nothing. A group of unarmed Jewish men and women were the only ones who dared to fight back.

It wasn't what Greenblatt said that was enthralling; it was that he was saying it at all. His quiet dignity and immense courage were part of a demonstration that theater isn't solely reserved for actors in makeup delivering lines beneath lights; it can be far more sustaining than entertainment, diversion and spectacle. It's also the most human and real art form imaginable, something that can shake the spirit and elevate the soul as much as any other ritual.

And for reminding us of that, we owe a debt of thanks to Mr. Joseph Greenblatt, a far greater hero than all the kings who've ever donned greasepaint and ridden across the vasty fields of France on a stage mount.

The Stroop Report at the Chance Theatre, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Feb. 6. $10-$15.


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