Grip of the past: Mazel, at Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh. | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Grip of the past: Mazel, at Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh.

I'm so happy that I climbed out of the funk I was in after last week's Holocaust play, The Grey Zone, just in time to see this week's Holocaust play, Mazel, a new work by local playwright Amy Hartman, presented by the Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh.

Based on the experiences of Holocaust survivor and Pittsburgher Jack Sittsamer, Mazel is about the unending and unimaginable legacy of Nazi fascism.

A native of Poland, Sittsamer, who survived eight different camps, came to America after the war and began a new life in Pittsburgh, marrying and raising a family here. Like many survivors, Sittsamer buried his past and refused to speak to his children about his experiences. Now at the other end of his life, as depicted in Mazel, Sittsamer has begun speaking out, through the office of the Holocaust Center, to school groups. He finds an urgent need and -- well, maybe not peace, but a sense of purpose in these lectures. And that, unfortunately, does nothing to soothe his prickly relationship with his daughter Pearl. When she was a child, he would never talk about this essential fact of his life. Now she sees him sharing it with strangers.

Things go from unsteady to much worse with the arrival of Martin, a 19-year-old German spending a year abroad learning about and working with Holocaust survivors. Pearl not only doesn't forgive the Germans, she can't see why anyone should ... especially her father, who has taken Martin under his wing.

And that, dear reader, is one hell of a set-up for a play. It is my great good fortune to tell you that Hartman has not just risen to the challenge; she's sailed over the top, going far beyond moving, if rote, docu-drama to create a painfully beautiful, aching rumination on the relative powers of hate and love and the impossible imperative of forgiveness.

Hartman has included not only Sittsamer's memories but stories of other survivors, and we switch between his present, his past and a sort of "collective" past. This brilliant two-tier approach constantly reminds us that the past never stays there and that Sittsamer's memories are, in fact, the reality of his everyday life.

Martin Giles' direction is as perfectly precise and focused as this play demands, filled with telling detail and brutal honesty. On Tony Ferrieri's evocative set, with Susanne Ortner's haunting musical accompaniment, Giles leads this cast of impeccable actors in moving stand-out performances: Robert Haley, Robin Walsh, Scott Sierzega, Jonathan L. Freeman, Vince Ventura, Adrienne Wehr and Erika Cuenca.

There's no question Hartman's play has a huge national theatrical life ahead of it. Be among the first and see it now.

Mazel continues through Dec. 3. Jewish Community Center on 5738 Darlington Road, Squirrel Hill. 412-394-3353.

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