On Sept. 6, 1941, the Nazis crammed 20,000 Lithuanian Jews into the Vilna ghetto. On Sept. 9, 1943, the ghetto was liquidated and its remaining 12,000 Jews were marked for extermination.
Remarkably, during the two years of its existence, the ghetto supported a thriving theater, orchestra and cabaret, where patrons in their best finery laughed, wept and applauded, though they might be deported the next day.
So much is historical fact. From it, Israeli playwright Joshua Sobel fashioned the play "Ghetto," using the real names and characters of the German and Jewish principals, which played to mixed reviews at the Mark Taper Forum in 1986.
The Los Angeles Jewish Theatre has now taken on the formidable task of reviving the play under the title "Ghetto Cabaret," though necessarily in an abridged format and fitted to the stage of a 50-seat auditorium.
To the company's credit, it has retained the essence of Sobol's work, which may be taken as a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, or, less charitably, to the power of human self-delusion in the face of death and destruction.
There are capable performances by Edward Padilla as the Nazi- appointed ghetto chief Jacob Gens, Andy Brendle as jazz-loving SS officer Kittel, Lisa Fishman as singer Khaele and Sam Feuer as librarian Kruk, with particularly fine acting by puppeteer Moe Gans-Pomerantz and Gary Bullock as Weisskopf, the entrepreneur.
An almost eerie footnote was added to the play when Beba Leventhal, a survivor of the Vilna ghetto, rose from the audience after the play to describe the real-life prototypes of the characters who had just finished their turns on the stage.
"Ghetto Cabaret" was adapted by director Letitzia Schwartz and producer Jorge Albertella. The latter, who also functions as the Jewish Theatre's founder, set designer, choreographer, ticket taker and resident playwright (his play, "Cooking," will open July 19), deserves a separate article.
"Ghetto Cabaret" is presented Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 23 at 1528 Gordon St. in Hollywood. Tickets are $18 (general), $16 (seniors) and $10 (students). For information, call (310) 967-1352.