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A War Is Brewing in “Our Class”

(J. Cooper Robb, Philadelphia Weekly) The darkest side of humanity and the power of faith are on display at the Wilma Theater, which opens its season with the U.S. premiere of Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s Our Class.

Inspired by Jan T. Gross’ book Neighbors and based on real events in the village of Jedwabne in rural Poland, the story (Ryan Craig wrote the English version) focuses on five Jewish and five Catholic classmates. We first encounter the group as youngsters and friends, but the innocence is short-lived. As the students grow into young adults and Poland is occupied first by the Soviets and then the Germans, the friendships become increasingly strained and soon broken. Catholics turn on their Jewish friends and neighbors with horrifying consequences.

In Director Blanka Zizka’s starkly brutal, unflinching production, all of this is both sickening and scary as hell. And that’s just the first act.

Performed on a stage adorned only with the trunks of dead trees, scattered chairs and a structure that looks like a greenhouse but is utilized for a very different purpose, Zizka fashions a world that is both surreal and frighteningly familiar.