“Sotto Voce,” which opened last week at the Historic Asolo, is a moving exploration of the persistence and power of memory. Bemadette Kahn (Kathryn Hunter), a prominent writer who remains in a wheelchair for most of the show, has long ago confined herself to her Manhattan apartment. Although we never leave Bemadette’s library, the characters take us on a journey through time and space that is left largely to the imagination, written by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz.
Bemadette wiles away her days cooped up with her maid and secretary, Lucinda (Hannia Guillen) until a nineteen-year old Cuban-Jewish writer, named Saquiel (Marcel Mascaro) tracks her down through her love letters to a doomed passenger on the S.S. St. Louis. This infamous ship primarily carried Jewish passengers seeking to escape Nazi persecution and was turned away by both Cuba and the United States. The passengers were forced to return to Europe, where all of them, including Bemadette’s love Ariel Strauss and his sister Nina, perished.
Director Melissa Kievman stated that “Sotto Voce” tells the story of “the impossible meeting and intimate entwining of two writers, one who needs to remember to catalyze justice, another who wants to obliterate a dark past.”
In some ways the people who seem most alive in Cruz’s brilliant and complicated love story, are Ariel and Nina, the ghosts that haunt Bemadette. They live in her memory captured at the moment they are eagerly anticipating a new life in Cuba away from the devastating persecution they faced as Jewish Germans. Ariel was Kahn’s one true love and she seems unable to escape the burdens and guilt of her past.
Bemadette prefers to remember Ariel and Nina alive and dancing on the elegant cruise ship, the SS St. Louis, on a trip her father funded for them. She suspects her father sent them away to ensure her safety away from her Jewish lover. But instead, the life inside her died with them, and she even attempts to throw herself at the mercy of a Nazi soldier.
Bemadette, a very successful and prolific author, cannot write about this tragic love story until the very persistent Sachiel, whom she calls “student” forces his way into her life. He takes her on a journey into her own mind to unleash her potent and vivid memories.
This play explores a different aspect of the Holocaust – the experiences of a non-Jewish survivor who lost her true love. Do not miss this outstanding production!
Tickets are available at http://www.asolorep.org/. Photos by Gary Sweetman.