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H w Freedman

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Ella's Secret
Saturday, March 17, 2012  7:39:00 AM

by H w Freedman

My play, Ella''s Secret, was presented in Italian at Teatro Millelire, Rome, Italy from 22 January to 10 February 2013. We received excellent reviews.

 This is one of the reviews translated from Italian:

Ella's Secret: a warning against indifference

Examining the abomination of the Holocaust always makes sense, here we find the foundation of a civilised conscience.  And just when we believe we know everything about the Holocaust, and feel immune to any kind of revisionism, or moral excuse, pretext, art suddenly melts the hardened conscience of well-meaning thinkers and throws the incorruptible into crisis. This is the purpose of theatre that is simply constructed, but charged with profound meaning and questions.

Ella's Secret, written and directed by Harris Freedman (author from New York who now lives in Italy), returns to the past bloodshed starting from the present. Two ordinary women, strangers to one another, each representing their family, their race, and each dragging the heavy weight of history and profound questions behind them. The present is demolished and the past is a bottomless abyss into which one can fall.

Ella – a light and intense Lydia Biondi, also the translator of the text - is a German of Jewish descent who fled to London from Nazi Germany forty years earlier, and made her escape with the help of an SS officer who had fallen in love with her.  On a typically rainy London morning, the equilibrium in which Ella lives is spoiled by a visit. Helga (Michetta Farinelli, engaged in a very difficult and rough role), the current wife of that SS officer, arrives from Munich.  As always, the past has the power and sound of an avalanche and memory assumes the shape of atonement. In the small space of the Ridotto Teatro Dell'Angelo the stage time is paced by the meetings of these two women. Helga has come to ask Ella to meet with her husband who has been mentally unstable since his release from prison. According to Helga, her husband could recover his sanity if Ella meets with him. The absent figure of the ex-SS is like a shadow with the weight of a heavy boulder. 

We immediately understand that the entire episode is a well thought-out pretext to examine human actions and their consequences. As the two women have tea and exchange simple details of their families, a small duel develops about the reasons for the Holocaust and the guilt of the SS who participated.  Like others convicted for murder of Jews, Helga defends her husband with the most classic of speeches: he was only obeying orders, if he didn't kill those Jews someone else would have killed them anyway, if he had refused to kill the Jews he would have been killed. How many times have we asked ourselves this question, not only in order to better understand the extermination at the hands of Hitler, but every time we are faced with man's abuse of his fellow man?  Every time we try to justify that abuse, especially when enacted by a representative of the state, our immediate response is always the same: he could not disobey orders. And our role as witnesses is what? Because the other important question around which the show is built is the guilt of those who have always known, were innocent according to the law, but were not morally innocent. Those who weren't among the soldiers rounding up the Jews and didn't make the laws, carry the greatest guilt because of their indifference to the fate of others, they stood by and watched when a Jew was beaten and dragged away and then entered his house and carried off his possessions, Ella tells her unexpected guest. Can forgiveness be contemplated for the perpetrators of those massacres?

Freedman's production does not seek answers, in fact it cultivates doubts, and despite the small theatre in which it is presented - a narrow space with a low ceiling, which might have prompted more frugal directorial choices – it is able to penetrate the viewer's intimate conscience, that is, if the viewer does not wish to remain deaf and indifferent.
Andrea Pocosgnich

on stage until March 25, 2011
Ridotto Teatro Dell'Angelo

Harris Freedman
with Lydia Biondi and Michetta Farinelli 
directed by Harris Freedman
assistant director Giovanni Morassutti
Lydia Biondi translation
Lighting Designer Dario Aggioli
Cultural Association mtm mimoteatromovimento


 *     *    *    *

Ella's Secret
by Harris Freedman
Directed by - Harris Freedman
Ridotto Teatro Dell'Angelo
from 08.03.2012 to 25.03.2012

Finally arriving on the Italian scene is "Ella's secret" by Harris Freedman, in a translation by Lydia Biondi, and directed by the author.

On a quiet Sunday morning, Ella receives an unexpected visit from Helga, a woman she has never met before. Both their lives have been affected by the same Nazi SS officer. Helga has a mission, Ella has a secret. Or could it be a nightmare...
Read more ...

Finally arriving on the Italian scene is "Ella's secret" by Harris Freedman, in a translation by Lydia Biondi, and directed by the author.
Where history and story-telling meet dense narratives arise. Especially when the chapter of history is the Nazi era and when the narratives are the interconnected stories of two women, a German Helga, and a Jewess Ella. It is the perfect occasion for a close confrontation between two diverse points of view about the darkest moment in contemporary European conscience. The show, divided into several scenes depicted in the same room, framed by different perspectives, results in a dialogue-inquest in which one woman tries to dig into the history of the other and into her deepest convictions. Especially regarding the Law, its fundamental relationship to both the German people and to the Jews. The inquest ultimately reveals that the destinies of Ella and Helga (like those of their respective peoples) are inextricably linked.
The text is dense and the performances are tightly woven in a crescendo of pressing dialogue that challenges agreement between the two excellent protagonists: Lydia Biondi (yes, the translator) and Michetta Farinelli. The two keep our attention rapt for an hour and a half, giving physical and emotional presence to the characters created by Freedman, characters who hesitate to speak although they are eager to, pretend to leave but betray the desire to stay, would like to live in the present but find the call of the past irresistible.
An integral part of the production is the music and sound effects that take you back in time and underscore the moods of the characters on a stage decorated with sobriety. But the true stars of Freedman's show, more than the music and perhaps even more than the good interpretations of the actresses, are the words, stories told, the indispensable - never repetitive – instruments of memory.

Manuela Sammarco


*     *     *     *    *



Mauro Corso

ELLA'S SECRET, written and directed by Harris Freedman. is staged at Rome's RIdotto Theatre Dell'Angelo from March 8 to 25.

Already presented in the U.S. and in Great Britain, this play deals with one of the fundamental themes of the twentieth century: the theme of the Holocaust and the massive wound that this atrocity has dealt individually and collectively, as well as philosophically and spiritually.
Freedman's text has at least two qualities of immense value. First, it is concerned with people. It does not try to make personal claims for or against something, it does not indulge in rhetoric, but tries to build two authentic characters, people with fears and everyday needs. People who have suffered the violence of history and who are not able to make sense of the effects of the horror of Nazi persecution in their lives. The second quality of Ella's Secret lies in having given voice to two women. The author could have made a different choice: for example, he could have presented the victim and perpetrator, possibly involving the spouse of the victim, as Ariel Dorfman did in “Death and the Maiden” (made into a film by Roman Polanski in 1995). In 'Ella's Secret' the confrontation is between the victim and the current wife of the persecutor, although here it is a very particular persecutor. He is someone whom we never see, someone that has saved Ella in some way. At the same time he is a man who is guilty of war crimes.
There are no really plausible reconciliations or reparations possible. The two women study and test each other with words, as in a ritual dance in which the predator can become the prey and the knife is never firmly in the hand of one or the other protagonist. In a spatial sense Freedman does an excellent job of managing the relationship between the physical and emotional distance of the two figures on stage, distances that remain elastic until the end, as they approach and separate. Entrusting two women, 'Ella's Secret' has a profound emotional component in a visceral sense more than just a literal sense, a rivalry that is part of the female universe.
A show therefore intense and satisfying, with the finale of a thriller. Not in the content, because this is not the aim of the piece, but certainly in the staging, thanks to the generous contribution of Lydia Biondi and Michetta Farinelli.






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