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BWW Review: Southmoore High School's LETTERS TO SALA is a Moving Historical Drama

LETTERS TO SALA tells the true story of Sala Kirschner. She survived the Nazi Labor Camps, saving over 350 letters, now on display at the New York Public Library.

BWW Review: Southmoore High School's LETTERS TO SALA is a Moving Historical Drama
Photo by Daniel Stoops of Stoops Digital

Letters to Sala is a poignant true story about one of the world's most horrible events. Nazi Labor Camps held prisoners of World War II, innocent people in Germany and Poland whose only crime was being Jewish. Sala Garncarz Kirschner was only 16 when she volunteered to take her sister's place at a Labor Camp in Poland. The conditions in the Labor Camps were horrible, but most imprisoned there survived. They were treated fractionally better than those in the Concentration camps. Sent there for Nazi slave labor, the prisoners in the labor camps weren't tattooed, they were allowed to wear their own clothes and receive mail.

Over the course of five years, and across seven Nazi labor camps, Sala corresponded with 80 individuals - family members, friends, fellow inmates in other camps, all begging for news of her health and sending their love and well-wishes. Sala saved over 350 letters, hiding them, protecting them, and carrying them with her as she moved from camp to camp. For over fifty years, she kept them hidden in a closet, concealing the ugly truth of her experience from everyone, even her own family. With the help of her daughter Ann, a book was written and the letters are now on display at the New York Public Library.

Arlene Hutton based Letters to Sala on the book, and Southmoore High School presents this touching and important story in their beautiful performing arts auditorium. The production features two casts. The Navy cast is reviewed on closing night.

Sala is portrayed by two actors simultaneously. Sala is seen as a teenager in the labor camps and also as a grandmother in the United States, some fifty years later. Kaia Crawford is the older Sala. Alicia Hunter is Young Sala. Both Hunter and Crawford show composure as Sala. She was truly a remarkable figure in life, and is portrayed that way here. Hunter is younger, afraid, but determined. Likewise, Crawford is also determined - to protect her family, teach her granddaughters, and preserve her own legacy.

Maria Carrion is Sala's daughter Ann. Carrion portrays a faithful daughter. She's shocked when she learns of her mother's past, only finding out after her own daughters are nearly grown. Lizzy Mowles and Kacy Miner portray Sala's granddaughters Caroline and Elizabeth. Mowles and Miner are smart and astute in their roles. They too are rocked by the news of their grandmother's dark past.

Imani Morrison is Chana and Elfrieda. Morrison is loving and concerned as Chana, Sala's mother. As Elfrieda she's a spitfire, speaking quickly with enthusiasm and energy. In both roles, she shows promise as a talented performer. Standout performances are given by Riley Robertson as Sala's sister Raizel and Addi Bassemier as Ala Gertner. Ala Gertner, Sala's friend and fellow inmate at the labor camp in Poland, was later sent to Auschwitz where she engaged in a plan to escape the concentration camp. Stealing gunpowder from the munitions building, Ala and several other prisoners built a bomb. When it detonated, the Nazis launched an investigation, ultimately hanging those found culpable. Ala was executed two weeks before the end of the war and the evacuation of Auschwitz.

Robertson portrays a concerned sister. Her correspondence with Sala was one of the lengthiest, and Robertson reads Raizel's letters throughout the show. Her scenes are powerful and beautifully done. Bassemier is a force as Ala. Ala is an unsung heroine of the war. She stared evil in the face and dared to stare back. She paid with her life, and Bassemier is a passionate and committed performer, very well suited to this role.

Sala meets several people along the way and continues to correspond with many of them for years to come. Jesse Edwards is adorably spunky as Chaim Kaufman. Kaden Fitz is charming and heartbreaking as Harry. Nic Bridges steals the show as Sidney Kirchner, a young American who steals Sala's heart. She and Sidney were married for 73 years. Joe Campbell is kind as Herbert Pache, offering a connection to Sala's past.

Emily Ward is Sala's other sister Blima. Malia Cardle is Bela, and Simon Rucker is Rozia/Rachel/Sara. Augustus Jones is Frymka/Gucia. Kris Webb and Justin Bible complete the cast as two intimidating Nazi officers. They all perform well together, taking this topic seriously and honoring those real people their characters are based on.

There isn't a weak link in this cast. Director Brooke Perez and Technical Director Carson Decker set a high standard for their students. It's impressive to see high schoolers using German accents, an important detail that makes the show much more challenging and authentic. There are professional productions that don't even attempt that feat, much less accomplish it.

The Gold Cast deserves to be mentioned, as they undoubtedly perform just as well as the Navy Cast. The Gold Cast features Rylee Smith as Sala, Alayna Bryson as Ann, Brooklyn Brumley as Caroline, Cadence Swindler as Elizabeth, Maddie Preske as Young Sala, and Kyleigh Baxter as Chana/Elfrieda. Evie Broyles is Raizel, Imani Morrison is Bela, Marcus Norwood is Frymka/Gucia, and Sha Marie Portis is Ala. Ryan Woods is Harry, Remi Amanbayeva is Herbert, Nathan Mann is Young Nazi Soldier, and Jayce Hance is Sidney Kirchner. All other roles are portrayed by the same actor in both casts.

Madison Foster works hard as the Zoom Technician, holding a computer screen for a performer who is presumably quarantined but still performing. Scene transitions are flawless thanks to the running crew of Liam Basler, Felecia England, Celesse Johnson, Eli Rucker, and Gray Smith. Stage Manager McKenna Pitt keeps the whole show running smoothly. Student directors are Kyleigh Baxter for the Gold Cast and Josiah Campbell for the Navy Cast.

The Southmoore students shine in this production, and it's a hefty show. It's sure to give these young performers a real challenge and chance to learn some important lessons. Above all, they honor Sala's memory and the gift she gave the world. Her letters are considered one of the most complete firsthand accounts of the inside of the Nazi labor camps. She made an indelible mark on the world, all by simply and quietly saving the letters that undoubtedly helped keep her going, even in the darkest of times.

Letters to Sala closed November 21st. Check back here for more info on Southmoore's Theatre program. Sala's letters are on display at the New York Public Library, and can be viewed online at NYPL.org.


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