By Liz Johnson, correspondent (Bucks County Courier Times)
Photo by Mark Garvin. Cast members are (from left) Bob Heath, Kyle Fennie, Ian Agnew, Kirsten Quinn, Tyler Brennan, Eric Cover and Jay Romero.
“When you’re a refugee, you’re not part of the place you’ve come to but neither have you fully left the place you came from. You’re an outsider and that brings its own pressure,” says playwright Timothy Kolman.
“Sometimes it takes 50 years to put things in perspective,” said playwright Timothy Kolman, who also practices law in Penndel. And by then, history repeats itself.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, which as a Jewish school boy living in London at the time, Kolman said he feared “would be the end of Israel.”
And that was traumatic for a boy whose parents only 22 years earlier had been orphaned by World War II, sent to live in England to be protected from the horrors of the Nazis and, yet, who never quite fit in as refugees, said the civil rights attorney.
“When you’re a refugee, you’re not part of the place you’ve come to but neither have you fully left the place you came from. You’re an outsider and that brings its own pressure,” said Kolman.
The anxiety it produced for the family forms the basis of the play “The Roses in June,” directed by Stephen Stahl of New Hope and premiering June 14 at Plays and Players Theater in Philadelphia.
Stahl said he was looking to do “something light” last fall, when he heard then-presidential candidate Donald Trump talking about Muslims celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center.
“I’m thinking how could anyone in their right mind believe this insanity?” he said.
And then Kolman’s script landed on his desk.
Set in 1967, the play focuses on Paul, the son of German-Jew refugees and a high school student at a private school who becomes a victim of anti-Semitism.
“It’s about how he tries to deal with it himself, what he ultimately does that causes the play to have its significant climax and what happens thereafter,” said Kolman.
Meanwhile, the boy’s parents are “unable to protect him from much of the same persecution they suffered,” he said. “The family’s been in survival mode since coming to Britain and haven’t had time to deal with it until this comes out.”
“The inability of the parents to protect their son and the son to protect his parents and the school’s unwillingness to stop or get to the root of it, it comes together in a very tense climax,” said Kolman, of Elkins Park. “Every scene keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. You won’t know what will happen next, but you will care very much.”
Stahl has added a multimedia component to it aimed to “transport the audience back to old Germany and new Germany. We’re showing the conflict and the contradiction of what we’re led to believe and what the reality is,” he said. “It’s strong, powerful and moving.”
Kolman said while some of the characters’ background is autobiographical, the string of events is not. Still, writing it helped him gain perspective on his own upbringing. “You’re able to see the issues work themselves out. There’s something cathartic about that.”
While the play’s events took place 50 years ago, the themes are alive today, said Stahl.
“What’s been done in the last year-and-a-half is horrible,” he said. “Now we can take our head out of the sand and confront it. That’s what this play does. Makes you confront the issue of hate, anti-Semitism and man’s inhumanity to man.”
“The Roses in June” runs June 14 through July 1 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. For more information, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.therosesinjune.com.