New Castle News

April 11, 2014

Play tells Holocaust survivor stories

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Before Lester Malizia even read the script, he knew he had to direct this play.

He said yes to doing “Voices of the Holocaust: Out of the Fire” just because of the nature of the story.

“Once I did, I was even more convinced I did the right thing,” said the New Castle native, who returned to the area five years ago after being involved in theater most of his life. “I only work on projects that speak to me and I choose them carefully. When I read this, I was tremendously moved.”

The play was co-written by Kauleen Cloutier, who did it for her capstone project as a Westminster College senior in 2005. Cloutier also acts in the play.

It will be performed at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh at 1 p.m. April 26. Malizia, though, wanted people from New Castle to see it, so it also will be done at 6 p.m. April 24 at Temple Hadar Israel.

“We wanted to do it before an audience before we go to Pittsburgh, and I wanted to get as much out of the performance as we can,” Malizia said.

Cloutier collaborated with another Westminster senior, Alyson Gasper, and her adviser, mentor and friend, Scott MacKenzie.

The play is based on research they did from testimony of survivors of the Holocaust that was compiled by David Boder in 1946. Boder collected 109 interviews on a wire recorder to acquire the experiences of Holocaust survivors who were at Displaced Persons Camps in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

The trio, who obtained permission to use the interviews, spent about two months going through the testimony.

“It was difficult to do,” Cloutier explained. “We had to desensitize ourselves.”

The play covers the time before the war to people living in ghettos, the transportation to and living in concentration camps, and life following the camps.

“It’s so important to me that atrocities during that time were not forgotten,” Cloutier said. “We try to make our show personal from the mouths of the survivors. It’s less of a history lesson and more of a story and of memories. We are creating something the audience can identify with.”

This isn’t the first time the show has been done in New Castle. After completion of the capstone, it was performed at the New Castle Playhouse.

Following one production, an older man approached Cloutier and said, “That was exactly how it was.”

Ken Cole of New Castle is producing the show, and there are eight actors, including three from New Castle — Travis Acsione, Mark McConnell and Philip Clark.

“I was surprised by Kauleen’s depth of emotion and the way she structured it,” Malizia noted. “It’s beautiful. She is saying that these people are the same as you, and what happened to them can happen to anyone. Horrors are still happening today.”

Malizia said he feels privileged to direct such an effort.

“It’s why I became a director — to bring work that addresses the human condition alone. I like work that speaks to people.”

Cloutier, who taught French in several different school districts in the region, is acting in the Pittsburgh area.

“I find that the show hits me differently every time I read it. But each time, I’m in awe of the individuals and the terrors they experienced, and the fact that they were willing to share with a stranger.”