Essential Pittsburgh
3:22 pm
Fri May 9, 2014

The Devil's Arithmetic, a Tale of Time Travel and the Holocaust Brought to Life on Stage

Young cast members in the Prime Stage play, The Devil's Arithmetic. From left to right: Victoria Perl as Esther, Lily Lauver as Shifre, Julia Zoratto as Hannah and Megan Krull as Rachel
Young cast members in the Prime Stage play, The Devil's Arithmetic. From left to right: Victoria Perl as Esther, Lily Lauver as Shifre, Julia Zoratto as Hannah and Megan Krull as Rachel
Credit Rebecca S. Antal / Prime Stage

The Devil’s Arithmetic is an award-winning historical novel about time travel and the Holocaust by author Jane Yolen.

The book has been adapted for the theater by Lancaster, PA resident Barry Kornhauser. This weekend Prime Stage Theater gives the first performance of the adapted play, at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

The story centers on Hannah, a modern day teenager who is mysteriously transported back to the time of the Holocaust. 

When playwright Barry Kornhauser adapted The Devil’s Arithmetic for the stage, he said he was already quite familiar with the story, having read it with his own children as they grew up. He talked about how the book and the play can be effective tools for teaching young people about the holocaust.

“It doesn’t pull punches, it’s very graphic in its portrayal of what goes on in the holocaust, which is unusual for a book written for young people,” he said. Emphasizing the fact that the story protagonist is a young kid from contemporary America. 

Kornhauser went on to say, “Because it’s seen through the eyes of this Hannah Stern, it’s really all about taking this epic, long ago event, and bringing it to life in a very vivid way.”

With the help of local teenage actors, director Lisa Ann Goldsmith is bringing Kornhauser’s script to life with the hopes of helping young people better understand what happened during the Holocaust.

“It’s very prevalent these days that there are a lot of people that believe the hyperbole that the holocaust never happened,” said Goldsmith. 

“The importance of this work is to remind people that it’s still very much alive, that antisemitism is very much alive. There’s been genocide in other countries, in Serbia, in Africa, if people think that it can’t happen again they are very much mistaken.”

Goldsmith explained that even the young Prime Stage actors needed a crash course in order to truly understand what holocaust survivors went through.

“I’ll talk to these girls about what it would be like, if in the middle of the night, somebody knocked down your door and grabbed your father or your mother out of their bed, and pulled them through the door at gunpoint and you never saw them again? And they were like ‘Wow! can that really happen?’ and I said that’s exactly what happened!” Goldsmith said

“It was important for me to sort of lead them through emotional recall, to have them feel their way through so they understand what these people felt like by the time they got out.”

The Devil’s Arithmetic opens this week at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side, the show runs from May 10th through May 18th.