Our Class bravely tells a filthy story about perpetrators who not all are villains, nor are all victims martyrs. That twist, rather than the chronicle of events, is the true source of the play’s power, yet because Our Class is such a chronicle, its impact is thereby lessened.
The bare facts are these: On July 10, 1941, the Catholic villagers of Jedwabne in eastern Poland locked 1,600 of their Jewish neighbors into a barn and set fire to it. The true facts of the atrocity were revealed in 1949.
Our Class follows the fortunes of five Catholics and five Jews, fellow classmates all, from 1925 to the present day; from friendship to hatred to violence, death and the aftermath.
Roni Toren’s set is a stylized classroom with tables and chairs that double as other objects, and in which the back wall is a blackboard. A bell divides the 14 “lessons,” the actors inscribing the number on the board together with the date.
What lingers after Our Class is a terrible futility because what happened in Jedwabne must be apprehended in the context of Poland’s tormented history in World War II and after, as it was overrun first by the Soviets, then by the Nazis, then by the Soviets again, they in turn being challenged by Solidarity, and on to the present.
Playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s characters reflect that history and it’s to his and director Hanan Snir’s credit that they manage to be people rather than placards.
Two characters stand out: Catholic Zygmunt (Dan Shapira) and Jewish Menahem (Eran Mor), both of them cowards and bullies, each in their own sphere. Shapira and Mor do such a good job you want to kick them both.
Tubby Alon Dahan injects mournful humor into his portrayal of Abram the village boy who becomes a rabbi in New York. Rachelka (Yevgenia Dodina) is passive, then turns waspish towards her savior and sad-sack husband Wladek whom Rotem Keinan plays with a fine reticence.
Alex Krul is a vicious, fiery Rysiek, Neta Garti touches us as the abused Dora, as does Miki Peleg-Rotshtein as the equally abused Zocha, who doesn’t seem to have a place in this world. Roy Miller convinces as thug-turned-priest Heniek, indicating the less than glorious role the Church played in those years, and David Bilenca gives us a precisely- tuned Jacub, whose life pays for his denial of what’s going on.
A bit overlong, but strong stuff still.