With hate crimes on the rise and a volatile political climate in the forefront of the minds of many, Footlights Theatre in Falmouth is revisiting the Holocaust, when 11 million people – including Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and those with disabilities – were exterminated for simply being different.

Anne Drakopolous’ “Appell: The Other Side of the Fence” is making its world premiere, offering moving first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, based on stories from survivors and their families.

Footlights’ announcement that the theater would stage Drakopolous’ debut play was met with a backlash of phone calls expressing anti-Semitic sentiments and anger that the theater was staging a play about the Holocaust. Despite the threats and disgruntled feedback, “Appell” opened Friday night to a standing ovation.

The play is set in a concentration camp during World War II. Chicken wire serves as the backdrop, giving those in the audience the feeling that they are imprisoned along with the 16-member cast. Low lighting, ringing gunshot sound effects and black costuming with colorful symbols – yellow stars for Jews and pink triangles for homosexuals – add to the somber eeriness of the production.

Families are ripped apart, homosexuals are brutalized, newborn babies are tossed away like garbage and children are tortured and maimed in heart-wrenching remembrances recounted by the cast as Holocaust prisoners in the one-act, 90-minute production. The images painted by the cast’s words are disturbing, but artfully rendered.

Alexandra Spiegel (160344) was bone-chilling Friday as a 13-year-old girl who was savagely experimented on by the notorious Nazi SS “Angel of Death,” Josef Mengele. The look in her eyes as she recounted her character’s horrific experience was beyond haunting, and her brief screams were blood-curdling.

The stories come one after another. A young woman, played by Allie Souza (64735), bravely risks her life to keep a promise that she made to her mom (157178, played by Ann Foskett Miller), desperately trying to save her unseen brother from the gas chamber. Cheryl Reynolds’ character (71978) is reunited with her most prized procession – a photograph – after being the only survivor of a family of 21. A man, played by Paul Menezes (B3005), graphically recalls surviving executed bodies being piled atop him as they fell into a pit after being shot at point-blank range.

Among the recounted horrors, there is an unquenchable resilience. Sonja and Kurt, played by Jackie Oliveri (44124) and David Murray (7952), tell their heartwarming story of survival and emigration to Portland, where they lived a fulfilling life, married 66 years.

Combined, the stories paint a larger picture not only of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, but the strength of those who survived the unthinkable torment and unlivable conditions. Mark Calkins (A7063), Jaymie K. Chamberlin (39164), Victoria Machado (140603), Phyllis McQuaide (157622), Patricia Mew (39934), Pam Mutty (107984), Anja Machado (44591) and Meghan Scott Curran (2318) round out the poignant cast of prisoners.

Bob Porzio is tasked with the difficult role of being the face of Nazi Germany as the only visible SS officer in the play. His looming character embodies the abhorrent barbarism of the Holocaust, while giving glimpses into the underlying conflict raging within a man conscripted into the depraved Adolf Hitler’s army. His character also relays sobering facts about concentration-camp practices and educates with details such as that “appell” means “roll call” in German.

There are very few Holocaust survivors still alive to tell their life stories today, making it easier for the savagery of the Holocaust to fade into history. “Appell: The Other Side of the Fence” is a stirring play that successfully reminds us to never forget, graphically painting indelible images onto the minds of theatergoers.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle

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