The Jewish Theatre of Grand Rapids opens their production of “The Milliner” today at Spectrum Theatre on Grand Rapids Community College’s campus. “The Milliner” is a show based around the identity struggles of a man named Wolfgang Georg, after leaving his homeland of Berlin during World War II and returning several years later.
Written by playwright Suzanne Glass, “The Milliner” tells the story of a Jewish hat maker, played by Dustin Willfert, who lives in a shop he runs with his mother in Berlin. Once World War II started, Wolfgang and his wife Amalia, played by Mariea Luisa Macavei, flee to England. Wolfgang’s mother, played by Lori Jacobs, who is a faithful Jewish woman, refuses to leave Germany. In England, Amalia embraces her new life, while Wolfgang is lost in the fact he no longer resides in his homeland. As soon as he can, he returns home, only to find a much different Berlin and home than what he left behind.
When asked about his character’s role, Willfert said, “It is mostly about his struggle to find some kind of an identity…he has this deep love for Berlin and for Germany, and he is trying to come to terms with everything that has happened to the Jewish people leaving, and being able to sort everything out when he comes back. He is looking to find that light he had before he left. He is very content with making things work, having his hat shop selling, and having things the way they were before. When this is all taken away, this is his struggle (for) identity and to assimilate into the new Germany, and to figure out himself in the spirit of the new Germany.”
Willfert said that he feels like audiences should come and see “The Milliner” because “the show is very much about a group of people that we do not touch on a lot. You hear not a lot about the German Jews that would have had a very hard time trying to get back into their culture. It is an interesting story to see unfold.”
Mariea Luisa Macavei said that the most difficult part of putting on this show for her was “not knowing much about that culture- I had to immerse myself almost to an uncomfortable state to understand.”
Director Scott Baisden, who is making his directorial debut in Grand Rapids with “The Milliner”, said he was most excited about directing this show because “it is about people who have lost their identity as a result of World War II, and as a result of the holocaust. The play was presented to me as a challenging opportunity. The cast is top notch, the script is astonishing, the character that is onstage is a Jewish man, but he first identifies himself as a German. The show is not about a holocaust. It is about people. Underneath it all, there are the well-rounded characters. It is a show where you will talk about themes on the car ride home, not the pretty sets or costumes.”
Jewish Theatre’s The Milliner runs in Spectrum Theater’s black box theatre today through Jan. 19. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Call 234-3946 or visit jtgr.org to purchase tickets and more information.