On April 6, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Cleveland will host a panel discussion about a semi-autobiographical play by Ya’acov Buchan called “Whistle: My Mother Was Mengele’s Secretary.” The one-woman, one-act, one-hour play takes place during contemporary times, but the central character is defined by events that took place between 1939 and 1945, before she was born.
Tammy, the unwanted child of two Auschwitz survivors, has spent her life in the shadow of their traumatic past and is a victim of the deep psychological wounds they suffered during the Holocaust. As a child, she wasn’t allowed to cry, complain or have companionship, and so she whistled to fill the silence in her life. She is now a troubled, tormented 45-year-old who hasn’t been able to find love, peace or self-esteem. And so the play opens with Tammy relinquishing a resigned, exhausted, barely audible sigh.
A story so profoundly grounded in unbearable personal pain is certainly permitted to display the theatrical equivalent of confessional chest beating and prostrate paroxysm. But the sigh sets the hushed tone for this exquisitely understated, modestly presented, and quietly unfolding piece of storytelling.
“Whistle” is a direct-address monologue delivered to all the ghosts in the room – the people in Tammy’s life who are alive no more but still haunt her thoughts. The always interesting and engaging narrative is seasoned with recalled conversations, touches of dark humor, and simple stagecraft. The play takes place on a black box stage surrounded by darkness, on which a small rectangle of space has been carved out to serve as Tammy’s painting studio void of paintings. Only an ironing board, two chairs, a hot water kettle and a painter’s palette with just two colors of acrylics share the stage with the actor. Even the lighting shifts and brief moments of musical underscoring, courtesy of Noa Ben-Dahan and Gal Chapsky, respectively, are inconspicuous.
The play was adapted and is performed by England-born and Israel-raised Hadar Galron, whose performance is masterful. There’s a mesmerizing musicality to her presentation, as she smoothly navigates through the script with all the right rhythms at just the right emotional pitch. And her comic timing, when called upon, is spot on.
The production was recorded live during a September 2019 staging at the Municipal Theatre in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Directed with a velvet glove by Hana Vazana-Grunwald, the work is captured by two stationary cameras that are largely unobtrusive save for when they occasionally attempt to zoom in closer and momentarily lose focus.
There is plenty to think about in “Whistle” and there will be no shortage of things to talk about during the panel discussion hosted by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Panelists include “Whistle” actor Hadar Galron, the Federation’s Hedy Milgrom, Cleveland playwright Faye Sholiton, and Anne Lukas, board chair of the Kol Israel Foundation.
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3 or visit cjn.org/Abelman. Read excerpts of Abelman’s new book “All The World’s a Stage Fright” at cjn.org/abelman. Purchase the book at cjn.org/books.