Theater review: The Third Wave

The compelling story of a dynamic California high school teacher who, as the playbill put it, not only taught history, but made history.

The Third Wave (photo credit: Courtesy JEST)
The Third Wave
(photo credit: Courtesy JEST)
Playing to a full house, the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater’s production of The Third Wave, directed by JEST veteran Leah Stoller, told the compelling story of a dynamic California high school teacher who, as the playbill put it, not only taught history, but made history.
Set in 1967, The Third Wave is the true story of Ron Jones and the class experiment he devised to teach his 10th-grade students about Nazi Germany and the insidious lure of fascism, after being asked by a student how an entire nation could have participated in and then denied the Holocaust. Written by Jones and Joseph Robinette, the play provides riveting insight into how easily a group of people can be captivated and controlled.
In the role of Jones, Hanan Fischman portrayed the young teacher in a kind and convincing manner. Although his heavy Israeli accent was, in all honesty, off-putting at first, he played the part so well that the foreign inflection became secondary to his strong stage presence and authentic air of compassion and command. In fact, one could easily see him as an officer in the IDF.
The versatile and ever-entertaining Marvin Meital played several roles, the key one being the older Jones – serving as narrator and commentator on the proceedings.
The students played their parts well, being transformed before our eyes from a rowdy group of classmates to an ominously strident unit of highly disciplined disciples who believed they were part of a radical new movement.
The chilling final scene, a projection of actual footage of Adolf Hitler delivering a rabble-rousing speech to thousands of his fanatical followers, brought the message home loud and clear.
As an added bonus to the play itself, one of the students from that 1967 class had come to Israel from the US to participate in a Q&A session for the run’s last three performances.
Mark Hancock, open and forthright, was glad to answer questions about his involvement in the life-changing experiment. He said that at first he had been drawn into the exercise by the promise of good grades and by the cohesiveness of the group.
But, Hancock admitted, by the fifth (and, unbeknownst to him, final) day, when the group was called in for an important assembly, he was so fearful of the increasing power of The Third Wave that he ran out the back door of the school auditorium.
The play is on the curriculum of various high schools in Israel, and Stoller says that 14 schools have sent their students to attend the productions. JEST also performed the play at a large high school in Beit Shemesh.

The Third Wave
March 6
Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem