Holocaust piece perceives the good and evil in everyone


"Rilke, Gigi, And . . . Dear Kurt" is an almost serenely quiet, delicately choreographed multimedia piece about one of the most brutally gruesome periods in recent history -- the Holocaust.

Created by a Holocaust survivor, Gigi McKendric, and loosely based on her experiences as a child, the 70-minute work has a tendency to be overly simplistic. The good guys -- a Jewish family, a pair of dancers, a violinist and two characters described in the program as "Nations" -- wear white face; the sole bad guy, a Nazi, wears black boots, a black body stocking and black makeup.

However, simplicity should not necessarily be equated with didacticism here. McKendric is also a sculptor, and that is the key to her use of simplicity on stage. She treats it as a tool to reveal the essence that emerges when the extraneous material is chiseled away.

In this case, the essence is the realization that the capacity for good and evil exists in us all. This theme is exemplified by a videotaped segment that shows the Nazi leading a disturbingly normal family life. McKendric overstates the same theme a few ** minutes later, however, when she holds a mirror up to her face, then to the audience, then to the Nazi.

And yet, for every heavy-handed moment, there are several evocative quiet ones, almost all of which are sensitively performed by a cast featuring Richard Kirstel as the family patriarch, Hurley Cox as the Nazi, and dancers Aimee N. Planche and Vicki L. Menges.

When Cox mimes shoving McKendric and she rolls over and over, as if in slow motion, the scene not only depicts the horror of violence, it reinforces the fact that the Holocaust was greeted with silence for far too long. A half century later, the scene is as timely as ever, since it is all too easy to imagine this disgraceful historical event becoming enshrouded in silence again.

The latter part of the play's title refers to a lengthy poem by McKendric about her childhood titled "Dear Kurt." Her broadcast recitation of that poem is the play's basic text, and visual images from it are scattered throughout the production. However, the most telling stanza cannot be captured in a single visual image; instead, it informs the entire piece: "My soul/remained/my own." "Rilke, Gigi, And . . . Dear Kurt" is not without flaws, but it is an unmistakable testimony to those words.

'Rilke, Gigi, And . . . Dear Kurt'

When: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m.

Where: Mildred Dunnock Theatre, Goucher College.

Tickets: $25 Sunday to benefit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; $12 thereafter.

Call: (410) 337-6512.

** 1/2

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad