Lost Holocaust Play THE LAST CYCLIST Premiere on THIRTEEN’S Theater Close-Up
“The Last Cyclist,” a one-of-a-kind new immersive film directed by Edward Einhorn that captures a stage performance of a rediscovered dark comedy once written and performed in the 1944 Terezin Nazi concentration camp, receives its first broadcast on THIRTEEN’s Theater Close -Up Tuesday, August 16 at 9:30 p.m.
THIRTEEN picks up the film on Sunday, August 21 at 11 p.m. “The Last Cyclist” received its festival premiere in February 2020 at the Mene Tekel Film Festival in Prague and, during the pandemic, it won awards at the Chain NYC Festival and the Melech Film Festival in Israel.
The original screenplay of “The Last Cyclist”, by playwright Karel Svenk, was irrevocably lost during the Holocaust, when Švenk was sent to die at the age of 28. But his production has not been forgotten; it gained mythical status among survivors despite being banned following its dress rehearsal.
Beginning in 1995, playwright Naomi Patz painstakingly reconstructed and reimagined the play based on everything she could find about it, especially by the sole survivor of the cast. She not only reenacted the scathing satire of Nazism, in which cyclists are blamed for all the ills of society, but she also allowed her message of defiance in the face of prejudice and bullying to speak implicitly to today’s society. today.
Staged in front of an audience for film capture at La MaMa in 2017, the critically acclaimed immersive production – which treats the audience as if watching the play’s dress rehearsal with fellow Terezin ghetto inmates – is a remarkable new addition to the historic record of Nazi atrocities, as well as a fascinating artefact of Jewish resistance to racial intolerance.
In “The Last Cyclist”, a group of concentration camp inmates rehearse an absurd comedy about escapees from an insane asylum who hate their cycling doctor and target all cyclists they blame for the misfortunes of the world. A schlemiel of a hero who buys a bike to impress his girlfriend becomes the number one enemy of lunatics. The leader of the escapees and his followers exploit the growing anti-cyclist hysteria and plot to wipe out all the cyclists by sending them to the Island of Horror where they won’t be so slowly starved.
Featured among the cast of 11, playing multiple roles, are Jenny Lee Mitchell, Patrick Pizzolorusso, Lynn Berg and Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld. The cinematographer and editor for this intimate, multi-camera capture of the stage production is Alexander Jorgensen. The incidental music for the play and the film’s score are composed by award-winning composer Stephen Feigenbaum, whose work was commissioned by the Terezin Music Foundation. Feigenbaum adapted Svenk’s moving March from Terezin, which became the unofficial anthem of prisoners interned in the camp. (Adapted lyrics are by Patz.) Renowned artist Mark Podwal created the art for the opening credits.
Through a remarkable process of cultural anthropology, Naomi Patz was able to reconstruct the play from a 1965 essay on theater in Terezin by Jana Sedova, a well-known post-war Czech theater and film actress, probably the sole survivor of the original. Cycling cast. In her essay, Sedova called the piece “our most courageous production”. Four years earlier, Sedova had recreated the play from memory, staging it at the avant-garde Rokoko Theater in Prague. Although steeped in communist ideology that was not in the original, the 1961 storyline still guided Patz in his quest to faithfully save Svenk’s original.
Terezin, the fortified garrison town 40 miles from Prague is known in German as Theresienstadt. Euphemistically called a ghetto by the Nazis, Terezin was a forced labor camp serving as a place of detention for transports to Auschwitz and the other five death camps to the east. Due to its high percentage of internationally renowned Jewish intellectuals and artists, the Nazis were able to use Terezin as a propaganda tool to divert attention from the secret death camps, cynically deceiving the outside world into believing that prominent Jews were not only protected from the ravages of war, but were allowed to write, lecture and perform.
“The Last Cyclist” was banned by the Jewish Council of Elders – the SS-chosen and controlled internal puppet autonomy – after its first and only performance, a dress rehearsal. Its author was a charismatic 27-year-old writer and director, Karel Svenk, who wrote and directed numerous cabaret and theater performances. Described by survivors as a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he was 28 when he died on a forced march west from Buchenwald as the Nazis retreated from the advancing Army red, a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe.
“The Last Cyclist” enjoyed a critically acclaimed three-week theatrical run in 2013 at New York’s West End Theater. Neil Genzlinger of the NY Times called the production “an intriguing exercise in Holocaust history”, observing that the play “is theater as a chance to bear witness”.
Patz and Einhorn reunited to remount the 2013 production with its original cast, filming it in front of a live audience at La MaMa over a four-day period in August 2017. The cinematographer and editor of this intimate film and multi -camera capture is Alexander Jorgensen.
According to Patz, “The kaleidoscopic experience of this extraordinary and bitter satire brings audiences today surprisingly closer to the fiery resilience of these inmates, who worked hard to maintain hope and a sense of their own humanity as they were fighting despair in the face of an indescribable evil. The allegory that underlies the plot – the evils of bigotry and bullying – is awfully appropriate today.”