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THE LAST CYCLIST To Appear In The Chain And Melech Festivals

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The Last Cyclist was originally written and rehearsed in the Terezín Ghetto during the Holocaust.

The Last Cyclist, originally written and rehearsed in the Terezín Ghetto during the Holocaust and presented at La MaMa in 2017, is an official selection of the Chain Festival in New York and the Melech Festival in Israel. The comic allegory by Karel Švenk, reconstructed and reimagined by Naomi Patz, pits innocent bicycle riders (Jews) against escaped lunatics (Nazis) who seek to destroy them. The New York productions of the play as well as the film were directed by Edward Einhorn.

The Last Cyclist opens and closes with realistic scenes of the prisoners who rehearsed the play, through which the audience realizes that even though the cyclists triumphed over tyranny in the allegory, the story had no happy ending in the real world. Terezín was a slave-labor camp, only 40 miles from Prague, where Nazi guards held Jews before shipping them to the death camps in the East. But Terezín was unique among the Nazi camps because in Terezín exhausted, starving prisoners wrote, rehearsed, and performed a remarkable number of concerts and plays for each other. Including comedies. The allegory in The Last Cyclist was bitter, but the play itself was hilarious, and the inmates who attended its open rehearsals craved entertainment to forget their hunger and exhaustion, their worries about family and friends, and their fear of the unknown that awaited them. The Last Cyclist's anti-Nazi allegory was considered so explicit by the camp Elders that they banned it immediately after the dress rehearsal for fear of SS reprisals.

Karel Švenk, who created The Last Cyclist in Terezín in 1944, died at the age of 28 on a death march just before the end of the war in Europe, and his script was lost forever. One original cast member, Jana Šedová, survived, preserved her memories of what she called "our most courageous production," and created a version of the play in 1961 in Prague. She later wrote an essay about theater and cabaret in the camp which included a summary of Švenk's 1944 plot.

The play was then virtually forgotten until playwright/scholar Naomi Patz came across Šedová's essay and began the painstaking work of recreating and reimagining the script.

Live performances of the Švenk/Patz play have been staged every year since 2009 by community theater companies and on university campuses around the U.S. (and in Spanish, in Mexico City). It had a three-week run off-off Broadway at the West End Theater in 2013, directed by Einhorn. It was performed most recently at the Brundibar Festival in Newcastle in the UK in January 2020, shortly before theaters were shut down by the coronavirus. Several stagings of the play are already scheduled for the coming year in the U.S. and in France, coronavirus permitting.

Because of Cyclist's powerful focus on the dangers of totalitarianism, bigotry and bullying, and because of its resonance with the situation in our own country and in the world today, Patz decided to bring the play to a wider audience. She and her husband, Rabbi Norman Patz, served as producers. With Edward Einhorn as director and virtually all of the ensemble cast of the NYC production reprising their roles, they captured a staging of "The Last Cyclist" at LaMama Theater in New York City on film. The incidental music for the film, by Stephen Feigenbaum, is performed by the Hawthorne String Quartet, augmented by other members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, directed by Mark Ludwig; it is a commission of the Terezin Music Foundation.


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