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University Theatre to stage concentration camp production

Friday, November 21, 2014

LAWRENCE — As funny as it is dangerously political, “The Last Cyclist” captures the absurdity of life under the Nazis as well as the resilient spirit of the artists who originally constructed this production inside the Terezin concentration camp. The play will open Dec. 6 at University Theatre.  

Prior to the opening performance, “The Last Cyclist” playwright, Naomi Patz, will give a talk, “Comedy in a Concentration Camp? ‘The Last Cyclist’ in Terezin” at 6:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Performances are Dec. 6 and 8-11 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

“The theatre produced during periods of cultural trauma function aesthetically and structurally in very interesting ways, but 'The Last Cyclist' really captured our attention precisely because it is a comedy,” said Rachel Blackburn, co-director and Toronto doctoral student in theatre. “The prisoners who put this play on refused to become victims or let their situation dampen their spirit. They fought the system with bravery and an ability to laugh at their circumstances that we hope is greatly inspiring to those who attend.”

“The Last Cyclist” is a comedy originally written by Karel Svenk and rehearsed inside the Terezin concentration camp near Prague in 1944. The play was not performed after the final dress rehearsal as it was feared that its clever satire of the treatment of Jews and others by the Nazis would bring fatal consequences. This new version has been reimagined and reconstructed by Patz, based on surviving accounts and scripts.

“We see the piece as thought-provoking, healing and inspiring,” said Gina Sandi-Diaz, co-director and Costa Rican doctoral theatre student. “A group of people who were in one of the darkest places ever created on earth managed to create a spirited act of defiance on the stage. They loudly proclaimed their humanity and their humor, and we just want to honor that.”

Written as a play-within-a-play, “The Last Cyclist” features Terezin ghetto prisoners who gather to rehearse the performance written by Svenk who was also a prisoner there. In this play, a group of lunatics escape their asylum and gain political power by uniting their society around a scapegoat for all their problems: people who bicycle.  

The company includes Savannah Edgar, McPherson senior, as scenic designer; Nannan Gu, Yantai, China, graduate student, as lighting and costume designer; Drew Hafling, Topeka freshman, as Head Physician, Rich, Lion and Lunatic 3; Tori Kilkenny, Shawnee freshman, as Jana, Manicka, Red and other cyclist; Megan Lethbridge, Dallas senior, as stage manager; Joe Lilek, Bethesda, Maryland, junior, as Mr. Opportunist and Big Shot; Micayla Miller, Olathe senior, as Ma’am, Mrs. Manickova and Old Jana Sedova; April Richardson, Andover junior, as assistant stage manager; Emily Schwerdtfeger, Columbus, Ohio, sophomore, as Lunatic 2; Eric Shin, Seoul, South Korea, sophomore, as Hitler and Rat; Reid Stein, Dallas freshman, as Young Man, Celery, Sweep, Mr. Hippo and Lunatic 4; Brianna Woods, Overland Park sophomore, as Lunatic 1; and Michael Wysong, Larned sophomore, as Svenk and Mr. Abeles.

Tickets for “The Last Cyclist” are on sale now at KU ticket offices and online at www.kutheatre.com. Tickets are also available by calling the University Theatre, (785) 864-3982, and the Lied Center, (785) 864-ARTS. Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for senior citizens and KU faculty and staff, and $10 for children. KU student tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

Patz, D.J.R.E., reconstructed and reimagined “The Last Cyclist” from a cabaret of the same name written in the Terezin Ghetto in 1944. Patz has written several Jewish-themed, one-act plays. Along with nine books, she is also the author of “A Word to the Wise,” a dramatization of Jewish folk tales set to music.

For more information on the University Theatre, visit www.KUTheatre.com. Follow KU Theatre on Twitter (@KU Theatre).