Relationships are often difficult to sustain, but for the characters in Alex Eisen’s new musical, “The Dark I Know,” they seem well-nigh impossible. Set in Germany during Hitler’s rise, the show centers on the interwoven lives of Jews and non-Jews as they resist the radical evil that is overtaking their society. The winner of this year’s Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, “The Dark I Know” premiered last Sunday in Midtown. Eisen, who graduated from SUNY New Paltz, wrote the book and lyrics; John Watts, an NYU student, composed the music.
Directed by Rachael Brandt, “The Dark I Know” is the story of Hannah (Sabina Petra), a non-Jewish photojournalist living in Frankfurt who covers politics for a London-based newspaper. Devastated by the loss of her young son, Lertz, she divorces her husband, a Nazi colonel, and then falls in love with a Jewish physician, Aaron (Ben Prayz).
The two families find much in common. Hannah’s adopted son, Lukas (Johnny DiGiorgio), forms a close bond with Aaron’s son, Noah (Noah Parets), even as the two boys are viciously bullied by the Hitler Youth. Meanwhile, Aaron’s daughter, Sara (Loren Moslin), is attracted to Victor (Ian Brodsky), a non-Jewish orphan.
As long buried secrets come to light, the two families must decide if they will allow these revelations, along with the steadily worsening political situation, to drive them apart. Songs include Aaron’s anthem for his German homeland, “Nation of My Heart,” and the two boys’ hopeful ballad, “Friendship Will Unite Us.”
Eisen, who grew up in Mineola, on Long Island, as the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, based “The Dark I Know” on testimonies of Holocaust survivors who lived in Weimar Germany. He directed the first full production of the show at New Paltz last October, under the guidance of a theater professor, Steven Kitsakos. (An earlier staged reading was performed in 2011 at the Ripley-Grier Rehearsal Studios in Manhattan.)
“My family is so supportive and has been such an inspiration to me,” he declared. The musical suggests that “the greatest fortune that you can have is your loved ones.” While he did not grow up with much involvement in Judaism, Eisen conceded, writing the musical has piqued his curiosity about his religion, as well as about his Jewish ancestors. “I’ve started to appreciate my own history much more,” he reflected. “It’s geared me to learning about my own family tree.”
“The Dark I Know” runs at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 W. 36th St. Performances are Saturday, July 27 at 1p.m.; Sunday, July 28 at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, July 31 at 8:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Aug. 3 at 3p.m. For tickets, $18, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.thedarkiknow.com.