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Tags: Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel’s first stage production, this one-act play was originally performed in 1968 to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Set in an underground bunker in a Polish ghetto, the play explores the effects of overwhelming evil on the minds of innocent human beings. A married couple, Mendel and Sarah, are hiding in the bunker. A few months earlier, Mendel was taken prisoner and faced death. He survived the experience but believed that his wife, Sarah, had suffered the same fate and was killed. To cope with his grief, Mendel created an imaginary woman, Chava, to be his wife. Inside the bunker, Mendel is convinced that he is awaiting the return of Chava. A maggid (an itinerant Jewish preacher) offers to marry Mendel and Chava when she returns. Sarah must explain to the maggid her husband’s confusion. However, Sarah confesses that she too is questioning her own existence. Desperation is beginning to cloud her perception. Did she really die? Is Chava real? The maggid struggles to decipher the truth. All he can see is a black canopy under a black sky.
In the three scenes or dialogs, “A Father and His Son,” “A Mother and Her Daughter,” and “A Man and His Little Sister” from the book A Jew Today by Elie Wiesel, we listen to the poignant and intimate conversations between loved ones in the moments before death. A survivor son talks to the spirit of his father who died during the Holocaust. Together they grapple with feelings of anger and sadness, realizing mankind’s reluctance to learn. A mother calms her daughter as they approach the gates of a concentration camp at night, knowing that their lives, as well as the lives of all those in front and behind them in the line, are about to end. And the older brother of a little girl promises he will never forget her as she perishes from cold. He reassures his sister that her memory will live on, and vows to find out who is responsible for her death. The scenes underscore the innocence of these ordinary people caught up in a struggle they cannot comprehend.
Once Upon A Time represents the essence of Jewish despair and hope, shown through a desperate rebellion against tyranny. In a ghetto on the brink of destruction, a Nazi commander randomly picks three Jews out of a crowd, giving one of them the inhuman responsibility of choosing which of the other two to kill. Daniel, a young, innocent man, is now faced with the incredible task of sealing the fate of one of his fellow Jews. Will he be prepared to sacrifice one of his brothers for the good of the community, or will he choose to rebel against his oppressors which would destroy the ghetto itself? Who will survive, then, to tell the tale?