Life can be a constant succession of internal and external turmoil that can be emotionally and spiritually crushing; yet one can always find joy, beauty and triumphs to celebrate if only we look inside ourselves.

This is the take-away after exploring the mind of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch Jew living during Nazi occupation. Like the more widely-known Anne Frank, Hillesum also kept a diary spanning three years, 1941- 1943. The diary, adapted for stage by playwright Susan Stein, is a masterfully intense rework titled Etty, which runs this weekend only at Carnegie Stage.

Etty, an off the WALL Production starring Stein as Etty Hillesum and directed by Austin Pendleton, is an intimate and engaging recounting of her most private thoughts. At the suggestion of her therapist Spier, Hillesum began keeping a diary at 27 years old to help work through bouts of depression. By way of frank discourse, Hillesum recorded her journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening immersed with political conflict.

Passionately delivered in Hillesum’s own words, Stein channels her spirit through mannerisms and movements. Costumed in a blue vintage style dress and black oxford shoes, Stein shifts flawlessly from troubled and challenged, to hopeful and positive, as Hillesum expresses a trajectory of moods, curiosities and self-reflection.

The script does not unfold chronologically, and we meet Hillesum through journal entries focused on her love life, struggles of womanhood, work and anecdotes about her social sphere. However, Etty is not superficial. Stein artfully depicts Hillesum’s deep desire to write and read, to love and be loved in a time and place scarred by crime and tragedy.  When Hillesum announces she wants to say something about Westerbork, a sudden and prolonged silence follows. This minute (or two) is torture, yet a fitting depiction of someone with a loss for words; or, perhaps, someone who understands some things are better left unsaid. Another particularly captivating moment in the play comes when Hillesum speaks fondly of the joyful times at Westerbork, such as the resident performances. Then she sings a few lines from Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (Means that You’re Grand). The tune, the dress, the singular prop—an old suitcase sitting alone in the center of the stage—the realness of it all conjures hushed gasps and whispers from the audience.

So much art has been created about suffering at the hands of savages and genocide, especially the Nazis and the Holocaust. What makes Etty different? This is revealed during the unofficial Act Two, an after-performance talk- back with Stein.

I assure you, Etty will leave a mark on your heart.

For ticket information and more, visit off the WALL’s site. 


Megan Grabowski works full time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but for fun she enjoys volunteering, as a trustee for the Crafton Public Library Board, the Girl Scouts and as a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round. Megan grew up attending community theater performances with her parents and relishes the escapism and adventure live productions provide.  Now, a mother to 2 teenage daughters, Megan is thrilled to see her girls enjoying live shows, performing on stage and creating playlists of their favorite showtunes. To keep up on writing trends, news and cool cultural stuff, follow Megan on Facebook @mjgrabowskiwordsmith


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