Journey to a wiped-out town in ‘Illuminated’
Alex Goodrich is part of the cast of Next Theatre's "Everything Is Illuminated," based on the book about a Jewish young man's journey to the hometown of his grandfather. | Photo by Isabella Coelho
‘Everything Is Illuminated’
Feb. 21-March 31
Next Theatre Company, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston
$30-$40, $25 for previews, Feb. 21-24
(847) 475-1875, Ext. 2; nexttheatre.org
Updated: February 25, 2013 2:08PM
There was a town in the Ukraine called Trochenbrod that is no more. Nearly the entire population — over 5,000 Jews — was wiped out during the Holocaust.
A young American writer named Jonathan journeys to that area in search of a woman who may have saved his grandfather from that fate in “Everything is Illuminated.”
Devon de Mayo directs Simon Block’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel for Next Theatre Company.
“I saw the original production of this play in London in 2005. I thought it was a story that needed to be seen by Chicago audiences,” de Mayo said.
The play somehow manages to insert a great deal of humor into a very serious subject. “The play is hilarious,” the director said. “But it goes to really, really dark places.”
In preparation for staging the show, de Mayo read and reread the source novel. She noted that dramaturg Kristin Leahey provided invaluable information on the history of Trochenbrod and what was happening in the Ukraine during World War II. The director and her cast also viewed a new documentary, “Lost Town,” on a search for “this town that was wiped off the map. After the Nazis came through, only 33 people survived,” de Mayo reported.
The main character Jonathan is inspired to take this journey after the death of his grandfather and an old, yellowed photograph he has been given of his grandfather as a young man.
Highland Park native Brad Smith plays Jonathan. “He’s obviously very intelligent but also a little inexperienced and naive as far as getting out of his comfort zone and going out into the world,” Smith said.
The actor believes that Jonathan ventures to the Ukraine “to give his own life a little more context.” Smith said he understands that need because, “I am Jewish and my family came from Russia.”
Jonathan’s guide and translator on this journey is a young Ukrainian named Alex (Alex Goodrich), accompanied by his grandfather (played by William J. Norris) and the grandfather’s dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.
Actor Goodrich described Alex as “a young Ukrainian man who has grown up in a big city, relatively lower class.”
Much of the humor of the show is based on the way translator Alex mangles the English language. “It’s the best malapropisms I’ve ever heard,” Goodrich reported. “If I show up and memorize these words in the right order and just say them, my job is done.”
The actor found an unusual way to capture a Ukrainian accent — by listening to the Brooklyn-based Ukrainian gypsy folk rock band Gogol Bordello. Of course, he received a lot more assistance from dialect coach Eva Brenneman.
Alex is helping Jonathan track his family’s history in World War II and yet, “His family history has never been discussed,” Goodrich said.
The actor indicated that when he first read the script, he wondered why his character is the one who periodically talks to the audience. “It’s very clear as the show progresses that it is both Jonathan’s story and very much Alex’s story as he learns secrets that his grandfather has been keeping his entire life about what his grandfather did during the war,” Goodrich said.