Caught In History’s Maelstrom
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Caught In History’s Maelstrom

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Mass migrations and persecutions can be difficult for us to comprehend, since they involve so many people and so many overlapping historical trajectories. Actress Pippa White finds a way into these wrenching social and political shifts through a laser- sharp focus on individuals caught up in the maelstrom of history. In two one-woman shows, “Voices from the Resistance” and “Voices from Ellis Island,” White brings to life the true stories of those daring men and women who risked their lives for freedom. Each show runs next week for one performance only at the United Solo Festival in Midtown.

White, who appeared in New York last fall in “I Can’t Give You Anything But Songs,” a show about the female Jewish composer Dorothy Fields, has performed both “Voices” shows for the last decade all over the country; she has appeared in 31 states over the course of her career. In “Voices from the Resistance,” she plays the Righteous Gentiles who stood up to the Nazis, refusing to allow their Jewish friends and neighbors to be exterminated. In “Voices from Ellis Island,” she offers a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants who fled oppression in order to start new lives in America.

In an interview, White, who is not Jewish, told The Jewish Week that she initially resisted the idea of doing a show about the Holocaust, out of a belief that such material should be done by Jews. But then she realized that she could examine the catastrophe from the perspective of those non-Jews like Sophie Scholl, a German schoolgirl who was guillotined for distributing anti-war leaflets, and Lucie Aubrac, a member of the French Resistance who staged a dramatic rescue of her jailed Jewish husband.

White’s Ellis Island show was inspired by “Island of Hope, Island of Tears,” a performance (a video of which is available on YouTube) given to mark the opening of the site’s museum in the late 1980s. Among the personas that White assumes are that of Rivka, a blonde Jewish girl with ringworm who hopes that her ailment will not prevent her from entering the United States, and Fanny, whose family survived a pogrom but whose mother cannot pass the literacy requirement passed in 1917.

Performing the show, White said, has given her a deeper appreciation of the “extraordinary courage” that her subjects possessed. “How did they endure that kind of fear and worry?” she asks herself. And, more pointedly, “Would I have taken the same risks that they did?”

“Voices from the Resistance” will be performed on Monday, Oct. 27 and “Voices from Ellis Island” will be performed on Thursday, Oct. 30. Both shows are at 9 p.m. at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. For tickets, $18, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.

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