|Jonathan (Jeremy Kahn, right) shows an old photo to Alex (Adam Burch) as Grandfather (Julian Lópex-Morillas) listens.|
Hoping to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during World War II, a young Jewish man travels from New York City to the Ukraine in “Everything Is Illuminated,” Simon Block’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel presented by Aurora Theatre Company.
When Jonathan (Jeremy Kahn) arrives in the late 1990s, he is met by his guide and translator Alex (Adam Burch). They are to be driven by Alex’s semi-blind, curmudgeonly Grandfather (Julian López-Morillas).
The only information Jonathan has is that his grandfather lived in a now obliterated shtetl and that the woman’s name was Augustine. He has a snapshot that he believes shows her.
He never finds her, but along the way he imagines his ancestry going back to the 18th century.
Alex, however, learns much more about Grandfather’s experiences during the war.
|Lura Dolas as Woman with Adam Burch.|
Act 1 moves slowly with some crude humor from Alex, and it doesn’t get very far except at the very end. That’s when the three men meet the old Woman (Lura Dolas).
Dressed all in white with long white hair, she’s a ghostly figure.
As Act 2 begins, she’s reluctant to help them, but then she shows them her collected artifacts that were buried in the area. She also leads them to the site of the former Jewish village.
This act is highlighted by two moving monologues. In the first, the Woman tells the gruesome story of how her sisters were brutally killed by Nazi soldiers.
In the second, Grandfather finally tells Alex his painful secret from World War II.
Completing the cast is Marissa Keltie, playing several female characters.
Sensitively and imaginatively directed by Aurora artistic director Tom Ross, the cast is uniformly excellent.
Production values are high, too, with the set by Kate Boyd, lighting by Kurt Landisman, costumes by Callie Floor and sound by Matt Stines.
Ross points out in the program that Foer’s novel is based on an actual trip he took at age 20 after his sophomore year at Princeton.
Although his book about the trip apparently was a success, it doesn’t adapt well to the stage, at least not in Block’s interpretation. It also was a 2005 film that lost money.
Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, “Everything Is Illuminated” will continue through Dec. 9 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.
Photos by David Allen