‘The Flights of Jan Wiener’ – World War II play brings tears of joy and sorrow
“The Flights of Jan Wiener” opened on Aug. 23 to a much larger audience than expected, as three extra rows of spectators sat on the floor of the Campus Black Box Theatre. Filled with song, dance, death, tears, passion and love, this play offered a little for everyone.
The play, directed and co-written by Karen Berman, chair of the Department of Theatre, is composed of mostly movements and music, the only props being very plain chairs and the actors’ costumes. The movements are choreographed by the actors, who try to portray the story of Jan Wiener by acting as the set and wordlessly dancing so that non-English speaking audiences can understand.
The play is about a young Czech man, Jan Wiener, and how he fled his Nazi-occupied homeland, joined the war against the Germans and later fought for democracy.
The play had a very emotional effect on the audience. Sarah Harrell, a freshman theater major, came to support her fellow theater majors and felt the play was very expressive.
“The father’s suicide was my favorite scene,” Sarah said. “It was really powerful.”
Tears were shed and laughing ensued over certain moments, like the scene in which Jan joins the British Army and is learning how to fly an airplane. The audiences reacted the same way in Prague, where the actors first performed their play this past summer.
In the Czech Republic, the acting group visited different places that tied in with the play and the time period. They even visited Terezin, a Jewish concentration camp, where Jan’s mother was taken and later died. The actors performed at four different venues: two professional theaters, one academic theater and the European Regional Theatre Festival in Hradek Králové, a city just outside of Prague. The group was the only non-professional group performing at the festival and Berman was very proud of them.
“This was an exciting and powerful experience for all of us to tell the story of this man who fought for freedom his entire life,” Berman said. “The play was a wonderful educational experience for our students who learned about the history and culture of the Czech people through this story of one man’s struggles.”
In his first lead role in college, sophomore theater major Zack Bradford portrayed Jan Wiener. He said that the actors paid attention to the audience to try to see how much they understood given the likelihood of a language barrier.