Trauma leaves nothing whole. In Alan Lester Brooks’ new play, “A Splintered Soul,” a maverick rabbi in postwar San Francisco risks his life and career to resettle Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. Yet aiding others plunges the rabbi into a world of agonizing moral choices, in which things are not always what they seem. “A Splintered Soul” opens Off Broadway Oct. 21 at Theater Three in Midtown with a cast that features Ella Dershowitz, daughter of celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, in her New York theatrical debut.
Directed by Daisy Walker, “A Splintered Soul” revolves around Rabbi Simon Kroeller (John Michalski), a former Resistance fighter who blew up a passenger train in Krakow that he believed to contain munitions for the Nazi troops. Nevertheless, the Jews of Krakow see him as a hero, and when he ends up in San Francisco, the survivors flock to him for help in putting their own fragmented lives back together.
Among these refugees are a young woman named Elisa (Dershowitz) and her brother Harold (Sid Solomon) who tell a heart-rending story of their parents’ deportation to Auschwitz and their own abuse at the hands of an evil German count who still has them in his clutches. As Simon debates whether or not to take the law into his own hands, he faces off against a dapper Jewish judge (Kenny Morris) who suspects that the gatherings of the Polish refugees are a cover for Communist meetings.
Brooks, 69, was born in Los Angeles to a Sephardic mother from Salonika and Ashkenazic father from Russia. From an early age, Brooks heard stories from older relatives who had escaped the Nazi onslaught. After graduating from Pomona College, he went to medical school at UCLA, and ended up serving in Vietnam as a radiologist. The playwright has spent most of his career bringing the latest techniques in diagnostic imaging to Southeast Asia and other parts of the developing world.
“A Splintered Soul,” which is Brooks’ first published play, comes at a time when the effects of trauma on both individual and collective memory remain at the forefront of both academic studies and popular culture, with the Holocaust a particular focus.
The playwright told The Jewish Week that it was a wrenching experience for him to return from Vietnam (for his radiology practice) to a society that seemed unconcerned with what its own soldiers had experienced during the war. “I came back from taking care of starving kids and found myself watching dog food commercials on TV,” he said. “I needed to write about moral and philosophical issues relating to who has the right to kill and under what circumstances.”
Dershowitz, who is soon to appear in a new biopic that stars Al Pacino as the controversial Jewish record producer Phil Spector, was drawn to “A Splintered Soul” in part because of the playwright’s sensitivity to the often-paradoxical nature of ethical decision-making. As she told The Jewish Week, “The play shows what happens when justice, morality and legality get all confused and turned upside down. There are no easy answers to questions of moral responsibility.”
“A Splintered Soul” runs through Nov. 13 at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St. Performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m, and Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets, $18, call SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.