“Sonja Weissman and the Miracle Play.”
A 2 Act play with music is a “play within a play.”
Two full productions (December 2013/14) in Grass Valley/Nevada City, California in (15 performances each year including ones for Middle School audiences.)The cast included 9 children (age10 to 16, four of them had leading roles) and 4 adults in support roles. Play highly suitable for general audiences.
The playwright, Robin Wallace, and Director, Dinah Smith, presented a 90 minute Powerpoint presentation about the production of “Sonja Weissman and the Miracle Play” at the Forum on Educational theatre at New York University in May, 2016.
A brief SYNOPSIS of “Sonja Weissman and the Miracle Play.”
The time is November 1946, a year after the end of WWII. The place, a small Episcopal somewhat dilapidated boarding school for girls in Quebec, Canada. The six girls (13-14yrs) who share Dormitory 6, practice and compete for parts in Miss Miller’s Miracle Play (a Nativity play from the Middle Ages.) One of the girls is Sonja Weissman, newly arrived from Poland. She speaks only a few English words, but in spite of this, she tries out and earns the part of the third shepherd along with M.J. and Joan her new supportive friends.
There is something mysterious about “foreign looking” Sonja, and the interesting fact that she has “rich guardians. The girls try to figure her out by their mostly mis-conceived and prejudicial ideas. This was in an era where there were no therapy sessions or honest explanations by the teachers about Sonja’s background. Curiosity and even resentment builds among the girls involved in the play. Some believe that a Jewish girl should not participate in a Christian play and they are extremely vocal about it. But Sonja reveals her strong character, her formidable talent as an actress, and as her English improves, her personal tragic story of survival. The “Miracle Play” and each girl’s truth about their own individual sadness ultimately brings them together in a more compassionate understanding of each other. At the end, M.J., who has been Sonja’s main supporter, magnanimously invites all the girls in the play to visit her Nana who lives in her huge house near the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
Although Sonja Weissman is the title character, she is really the pivotal one. M.J. (Mary Jane Young) is the main character.
What led to the writing of this play?
This play is based on a vivid memory I had as an 8 year old in 1946. I had recently settled in at a small boarding school in rural Quebec where suddenly my new roommate arrived: a mysterious new girl from Poland. I was intrigued that she had guardians, instead of parents but of course I never knew her full background story. If I had been older, say about 14 and more knowledgeable about the world, I might have.
Many years later, I thought about her when I started to write fiction. Needless to say, much research fed the writing of this play. Today, the knowledge of the Nazi holocaust 1938-1945 is so embedded in our consciousness, making it difficult to imagine what it was like to live without such knowledge. During World War II, news of what was going on in Europe regarding Hitler’s “Final Solution” was not generally known, since the media did not report it on the front pages.
I started with a short story, which then became a novel; then a screenplay that was eventually optioned by Jennifer Jonas in Toronto. It was never made and I remain thankful as the story was greatly changed when she pitched it to potential funders. I had pretty much given up all rights. Eventually I wrote it as a 2 Act play with music for 2 full productions in 2013 and 2014. Since they were received with great enthusiasm by the casts and audiences, I have felt that the story finally found its home!