*A Good Day at Auschwitz. Includes an interview with playwright Stephen Tobolowsky and LATW. Producing Director Susan Loewenberg.
Stars: Alan Mandell as Abe and Stephen Tobolowsky as Himself Digital download. 1hr 36 mins.
LA Theater Works. 2021.
It's difficult to say that this personal history of a man who survived unbearable conditions for three years in one of the most horrific places in the world is an enjoyable experience -- but it is. A Good Day At Auschwitz
by Stephen Tobolowsky is also very much about kindness and understanding.
The characters of Abe and Stephen are based on real people, and their friendship is a bond based on their mutual upbringings in Judaism and how it helps them in times of need. When Stephen's mother dies, he asks his rabbi how he could honor her and the rabbi suggests saying the kaddish prayers with 9 other Jews for 30 days. Stephen joins a group of congregrants, some of whom are in mourning themselves and some attend to ensure there will be 10. This is where Stephen meets Abe.
Stephen is an unemployed young actor. Abe is a retired, old, three-year survivor of Auschwitz. By the time Abe meets Stephen, he is an old man who has come to terms with the good and the bad of his life. Soon, they decide to meet everyday for a corned beef sandwich breakfast and a little schnapps and other times when Abe shares with Stephen his life before the Holocaust, during it, and afterwards.
Abe's story is fascinating, and his attitude and approach to life is amazing. Abe has suffered the loss of family members and the way of life he was born to, but he used his uncanny judgment and ability to make the best of what he is and has, which is the intelligence and agility to read situations and survive them. He even managed to fall in love three times while in Auschwitz.
Abe has his camp tattoo removed by a friendly Arab tattooist, just after he meets Stephen because he's ready to never be haunted by his past again; but he is more than ready to tell Stephen his story and Stephen is willing and happy to adjust to Abe's habits, like drinking schnapps for breakfast, in order to gain the wisdom that his friendship and understanding with Abe can give him.
This is a love story. A story of how Abe's love of life makes it possible for him to survive the worst and make the best he can of what he has been given. Listening to this story, you've got to love Abe and enjoy that Stephen was able to benefit from their friendship.
Stephen's writing and his reading are so genuine and sincere and funny, that it is hard to imagine that any other actor could capture this relationship with as much empathy and honesty as he does. However, if Alan Mandell could bring Abe back to life so well and so believably, I guess anything is possible.
Reviewed by Nola Theiss.