Holocaust hero’s story unfolds in ‘Irena’s Vow’ opening this weekend

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Jess Tanner, a graduate theatre studies major, performs as Irena Gut Opdyke in a rehearsal for Kent State’s production of “Irena’s Vow” in Wright-Curtis Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.

Kellie Nock

“Irena’s Vow” will begin its two-week run this weekend when it opens Friday night at the Wright-Curtis Theatre in Kent State’s Center for the Performing Arts.

“Irena’s Vow” tells the life story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a young Polish Catholic woman who aided and saved Jews during the time of the Holocaust. Opdyke’s story was adapted into a play by Dan Gordon.

“Just being a part of this production has been rewarding,” said sound designer Cory Kosman. “It’s great to bring her story to the world. She was an amazing woman.”

Opdyke has been recognized as one of the “Righteous Among Nations” by the Israel Holocaust Commission, along with the Israel Medal of Heroes. After Opdyke passed away in 2003, Opdyke’s daughter, Jeannie Smith, has travelled across the nation in a speaking series to recount her mother’s experience with the Holocaust.

Smith will be at Kent State to do a talk-back after each show during opening weekend as a way to offer her and her mother’s perspective. Smith offered to do a talk-back at Kent State after director Amy Fritsche reached out to her over the summer.

“The content is not light and fluffy, it’s hard and specific,” Fritsche said. “I mean, it’s hopeful and light, but you’re still dealing with World War II and the persecution of an entire religious sect.”

Assistant Director Abbey Matye had similar thoughts.

“It’s such … an emotionally draining world to be in,” Matye said. “So it was a challenge to help get the actors of that world at the end of the day.”

The cast and crew has worked in rehearsals and run-throughs in order for the show to premiere smoothly for opening weekend.

“The collaboration of everybody involved has been amazing.” Fritsche said.

Wright-Curtis Theatre has a small stage situated in the center of the room, and an overhead lighting fixtures so that the crew may have control over what the audience sees and does not see. The crew works hard to make sure that the sound and lighting cues fit the scene on the stage.

“It’s been an incredibly collaborative production from the first moment we had our table work,” said lead actress Jess Tanner, a theatre studies graduate student. “I really feel as if every person involved contributed the same amount.”

Tanner plays the titular character in the play.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to have such a supportive, creatively engaged group of people together,” Tanner said. “Everybody brought their heart (and) … soul to every single rehearsal.”

“Irena’s Vow” opens to a sold-out show on Friday, and will run until next Sunday, Oct. 23. Tickets are available at the box office at the Center for the Performing Arts, online or over the phone at 330-672-278.

Contact Kellie Nock at [email protected].