|Lisa Kathryn Hokans and Jon-Michael Miller in Bella’s Dream–-photo by Julie Lemberger|
Bella’s Dream, billed as a “new play with dance” at Clemente Soto Veléz Cultural and Educational Center, is the playwriting debut of Dana Boll. Seamlessly weaving monologue, dialogue, past, present, movement, and multimedia, it is the moving true story of Boll’s paternal grandparents and their miraculous survival through the horrors of World War II.
|Playwright Dana Boll|
The play opens in a present day supermarket, where anti-semitic remarks still run rampant. Ronny (Bob Angelini), who plays Boll’s father, is a spirited customer whose pride in his heritage makes him especially defensive. As the narrator, Boll takes us back in time to the day her grandparents met in 1939. We follow the relationship of Bella and Raymond Boll on their journey as they flee Poland, endure heavy labor in arctic Siberia, and fight for survival in the Uzbekistan deserts. Jumping back and forth between the time periods is a nice juxtaposition, both incorporating the theme of dreams: Dreams of foreboding and dreams for a better future. At one point, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech plays in the background, reminding us how far we still have yet to go to overcome fear and racism.
The heaviness of the Holocaust is balanced by the depiction of the extraordinary love between Bella and Raymond. Lisa Kathryn Hokans and Jon-Michael Miller are very convincing as a couple truly devoted to one another. Hokans (Bella) is beautiful, vulnerable, heartbreaking and charming as she runs the gamut of emotions. However, her fiery red hair is distinctly and distractingly un-Jewish looking.
Miller (Raymond ) is a commanding but gentle presence, with all the pain of the world reflected in his eyes. Miller plays the role with such confidence and quick thinking that the character seems to resemble a Jewish Frank Abagnale Jr., convincing people that he is a train conductor, a German, and a Russian.
Kristin Parker is also a standout, playing everything from a gum chewing hoodlum to a medicine wielding gypsy. As a whole, however, while the performers’ acting is top rate, the Yiddish and German accents could be improved upon.
Boll’s strengths lie in both playwriting and movement. Her choreography is carried out by a bevy of blank-faced lithe women in flowing white dresses, giving them a ghostly, ethereal look. The dances are effective in storytelling and painting pictures, combining traditional Jewish movement with more artistic formations. The women effortlessly become rolling logs, rambling rivers, ocean waves (with the help of a simple blue scarf), deportation trains, lumberjacks, and even the falling rain itself
|Dana Boll moves with the dancers in Bella’s Dream–photo by Julie Lemberger|
Director Jessica Ammirati makes great use of a mostly bare stage in a sprawling space, differentiating between areas for intimate interior scenes versus stark train platforms and the vast expanse of the desert. She constantly keeps the dancers flowing on and off the stage, even before the lights dim, giving us the sense that our ancestors are ever present and still watching over us today.
The multimedia elements are a nice touch, but will assuredly go more smoothly after a few performances when the kinks and timing lapses have been worked out. One screen features quotes to accompany recorded voiceovers, and another shows photographs from the era, personal pictures from the archives of Bella and Raymond, and even some moving shots. The visual of the rolling railroad tracks is especially effective, accompanied by the wheels of moving scenery crates rumbling across the stage.
At a long two hours and twenty minutes, the show could eliminate a few scenes, getting the play to less than two hours. But nevertheless, this is a story that needed to be told. After viewing Bella’s Dream, no one can deny that the brutality of the past lingers in senseless present-day hatred, just as no one can deny the power of true love and destiny.
Boll was told by her grandmother, “Go live your life as if it were a work of art.” Boll has done just that, taking the dreams of her grandparents and using them to realize her own dreams in bringing this very personal production to fruition.
|A scene in Bella’s Dream–-photo by Julie Lemberger|
We received 2 complimentary tickets to Bella’s Drem. These opinions are those of Rori Nogee, the reviewer.