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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Creating The Book of Joseph: Challenges

Posted on April 19th, 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 and Richard discuss the most challenging things they faced in translating this story into a play.

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: Karen, in the process of creating the play, what did you find was the most challenging thing for you?

Karen Hartman: The biggest challenge about this play is its biggest gift, which is that there’s so much of it. So, this play takes place over seventy years in two different countries but many different cities.

There’s an entire correspondence between nine people, there’s an immigration hearing, there’s a contemporary father-son story, there’s another correspondence between Joseph and his American wife Vita, Richard’s father, and there is so much in this play that for the first couple of years working on it I thought, well this should be a novel, this should not be a play. This is just too broad.

So, finding a way to contain all of that history into– the trick is– into the character of Rich, as presented in the play, was probably more flawed than Rich in real life [both laugh] because I– you know, you have to make up a certain amount of drama and angst. And this debate, this real argument between Rich in the play and his adult son Craig in the play who is a relentless millennial historian who wants to know the truth and has no respect for this idea of not asking questions in order to spare people’s feelings.

So in that father-son conflict can emerge all the aspects of the history, but that by far, just the scope of this play was the biggest challenge.

Richard Hollander: I just wanted to pick up on what Karen said. There are three generations in this, but my character is a generation older than my father’s character, and so the arc of the play crosses time and space and dimension but we all– where Craig breaks through is– my son’s character– is that we all create boundaries with the people we love.

And, often we talk about family secrets, the assumption is it’s about physical abuse, it’s about sexual abuse, you don’t want to go there. Well, the family secrets in this play were born out of love, that I never wanted my father to relive the pain of losing his family and his culture, and his language, and his livelihood, and his sense of place, I didn’t want to go there.

But similarly, he clearly did not want to impose on me, and friends and family, his story, because he thought that would be painful for us to endure. So, you have this fascinating “family secrets” theme that is based– its foundation is love.

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