The Book of Joseph: Everyman Theatre and a Jewish Play

Posted on April 25th, 2018 by

Playwright Karen Hartman and author and native Baltimorean Richard Hollander were kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little about their experiences with creating “The Book of Joseph” and bringing the story of Richard’s family to life.

Interview by JMM Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. Filming and transcription by Carmen Venable. This interview was filmed on April 11, 2018 at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore, MD.

“The Book of Joseph” runs at the Everyman Theatre May 9 –June 10, 2018. It’s companion exhibit, “The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family,” is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland April 22 – June 3, 2018.

In this clip Karen discusses why Everyman Theatre’s production of “The Book of Joseph” is particularly exciting.

Transcript:

 Karen Hartman: Well, one thing that’s exciting about this production is that Everyman Theatre is one of the few theaters in the country to keep a resident company of actors. This used to be a part of the American Regional system and it just isn’t anymore. So, in our production here, this group of actors, who are playing a family, they kind of are a family. More than half of them are part of this company, they know each other, they work together. There’s this built in rapport and intimacy that they bring the production from the beginning that’s really exciting. And the other thing is, I’m excited about this director, Noah Himmelstein, who I’ve known for a while, who’s just one of the most exciting young directors around, who both has the heart for this play, and the imaginative spirit for this play, and I’m really eager to see what he brings to it too.

In this clip Karen discusses why “The Book of Joseph” is a Jewish play.

Transcript:

Karen Hartman: No one has ever asked me about this play as a Jewish play, probably because it’s in part a Holocaust story, so that seems in some ways obvious, and in many ways we want to emphasize all of the ways that the play is universal and about immigration and American-ness and this idea of a briefcase. There’s also something that in a way, I can’t quite identify, strikes me as particularly Jewish, about a yearning to have a conversation with an ancestor. And I don’t know why that is, but I’ve known it from when I first started teaching playwriting– I started teaching when I was in my early twenties. I was right out of college and one of the first places I taught a playwriting workshop was a Jewish day school, and I asked the students, “Write a paragraph about something you want that you can’t buy with money,” as a starting point for teaching the kind of dramatic questions. And this little boy, a fifth grade boy, wrote, “I wish I could go back in time and meet my grandfather.” And I thought, this strikes me as a cultural habit of yearning to have that conversation with someone in the past. It’s been a huge part of my work, writing about my own family history, probing out those questions, writing a character who meets her own grandmother, and there’s something about the way this play works, that although it is– although it plays around in time and space, it doesn’t play around in a way that’s playful or random. It plays around in a way that serves this central yearning of, “I want to go back, I want to know my history better, I want to know my dad better.” And it strikes me as a Jewish habit of inquiry.

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The Book of Joseph: Moving Forward

Posted on April 22nd, 2018 by

Playwright Karen Hartman and author and native Baltimorean Richard Hollander were kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little about their experiences with creating “The Book of Joseph” and bringing the story of Richard’s family to life.

In this clip Karenand Richard share their advice about family stories and secrets.

Interview by JMM Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. Filming and transcription by Carmen Venable. This interview was filmed on April 11, 2018 at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore, MD.

“The Book of Joseph” runs at the Everyman Theatre May 9 –June 10, 2018. It’s companion exhibit, “The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family,” is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland April 22 – June 3, 2018.

Transcript:

RK: What would you tell, to maybe someone else who has found something in their attic, or has heard tell of family secrets, after going through this experience, what would you advise someone?

RH: [To Karen] You can start with that one, because you had a similar situation in your family.

KH: I did. But I want to answer Rachel’s question directly first, which is– I am a little more like Craig in the play; I want to encourage people to be braver, to be more intimate, to live more truthfully. I mean, that’s my mission as an artist, and this– so to be invited into a story that is so much about that, so much about, “Well, I feel like I’m protecting my family by not asking the hard questions, but what does that really serve long term, does it really serve them to leave this earth without their story being told? Or does it serve them, or does it serve me, to ask those questions, so that we can carry forward more?” Someone can always say. “I don’t want to talk about that,” but then at least you know, “Well, I asked, you know, I tried. I exhibited interest.” There’s an opportunity for that story to come down, whatever it is, because part of what’s universal about the play is this sense that we all have a briefcase, we all have those mysteries and questions, and in the case of this story, tragically, you know Rich finds the briefcase after his parents passed away. But for most of us, there are people who we want to ask. So, I would say: ask.

RH: I would agree with that. You know, one of the cruel ironies of reality is that when my parents were killed, I was a journalist. I’m supposed to be the person asking the questions. But all of a sudden, when I am a participant in this, I didn’t do it. I didn’t ask the questions, and so it took, years later, when I was able to play journalist, and ferret out the story of my father and there’s a powerful immigration story that emerges, there are the story about– war story that emerges, there’s a love story that comes about, but I found these things out after the fact and after I missed the opportunity, not only to talk to my father, but as the play points out, there were many people alive in nineteen eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine, and so forth, who could have enhanced and added to the narrative. But I didn’t go there at that point.

RK: Fantastic. Richard, what is the biggest message you hope people take away from seeing this play, and from getting to go and visit and see some of the letters on display at the Museum?

RH: Well, it’s a tough question because there are so many entry points for the audience in this play. And, I suspect if you walk through the lobby after the play, you will hear people say, “It was about this!” “No, it was about immigration!” “No, it was about family secrets!” “No, it was about father-son relationships!” “No, really it was about children– the Craig character with his father.” So, it’s so hard to pinpoint one theme, and I really don’t want to do that, because I want the audience to have that compelling theatrical experience where you leave and say– and can debate, and talk, and it generates conversation. And– but certainly, as Karen said earlier, there’s a theme there, it says do it now, we don’t know what tomorrow is, and ironically, when your parents in a matter of a second or two, it really strikes the survivors that an opportunity was missed. So, the message– if there’s one message, is: don’t miss an opportunity to have that conversation.

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The Book of Joseph: The Birth of a Play

Posted on April 20th, 2018 by

Playwright Karen Hartman and author and native Baltimorean Richard Hollander were kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little about their experiences with creating “The Book of Joseph” and bringing the story of Richard’s family to life.

In this clip Karen talks about the impetus behind translated Richard’s book “Every Day Lasts A Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland” into the play “The Book of Joseph.”

Interview by JMM Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. Filming by Carmen Venable. This interview was filmed on April 11, 2018 at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore, MD.

“The Book of Joseph” runs at the Everyman Theatre May 9 –June 10, 2018. It’s companion exhibit, The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family, is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland April 22 – June 3, 2018.

Transcript:

RK: I want to start by asking: Karen, how did the book-to-play transition come about? What was the impetus?

Karen Hartman: Technically, the impetus was, I was approached by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Director Barbara Gaines, who said to me, “Here’s a story; do you want to write a play about it?” Emotionally, the hook for me was: here’s this story about this young man in his thirties, living in Baltimore, father of three, his parents die tragically in a car accident, and in their attic is a briefcase full of letters in Polish and German, stamped with Swastikas. He doesn’t know what they are. And I thought, “Oh, that’s really interesting.”

And this man sets aside this briefcase for many years, and when he finally gets them translated it turns out that these are a group of letters from his father’s family, left behind in Krakow, and they are the most significant group of letters to survive the Krakow ghetto. And the story becomes both the story of the man who escaped, Joseph Hollander, and his son, Richard Hollander, the man who found the briefcase. And that double story just lodged in my heart from the very beginning and that was the story I was so excited to tell.

RK: Fantastic. And Richard, what was it like for you to sort of be a part of the process of this play coming into being and seeing your story sort of come to life that way?

Richard Hollander: When Karen created the play, she made a character Richard Hollander. [Karen laughs] And there was never a morning in my life when I woke up and said, “Gee whiz! I’d like to be a character in a play!” But as I got into it, I learned a lot about my life and what I experienced after my parents were killed in a car accident. And I learned of the parallelism between my life and my father’s life.

And the fact that what I experienced in the journey of for so many years burying the story, of not pursuing what was in the letters, what were the other documents that were available, not using, frankly, the journalistic skills that I had access to at the time– I was a news reporter at Channel 11.

I learned through Karen’s work why I frankly was the coward that I was, why my character in the play is flawed, which is fine with me, because it’s probably accurate [laughs]. And, I’m able to experience the process and the journey along with the character in the play, but I also understand that this is a universal story, that the character in the play– Richard in the play– sees his father before he, Richard, was born. And that is something I think all of us in the backs of our minds think, “Gee, what were our parents like before we were born?”

And this– through this play, it’s an opportunity for me to see my father– before he was born, and learn about his values, what motivated him, his survival skills, his courtship and marriage to my mother, so in many ways, it’s a really endearing, personal play as well as having profound universal themes.

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