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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Young actors shine in demanding 'Butterfly'

EAST FLAT ROCK — Hundreds of paper butterflies provide the only color on the heavy and dark wooden stage for YouTheatre's performance of "I Never Saw Another Butterfly."

The clothing is drab, the story inconceivably sad. The only hope at all to emerge from any telling of the Holocaust is the hope that in remembering we honor the sacrifice of millions and recognize the human spirit that survived.
From 1942 to 1945, 15,000 children passed through Terezin before being shipped off to other concentration camps, where all but 100 were exterminated. Told from Raja's perspective, "Butterfly" is based on a collection of poems written by the children of the Jewish Ghetto in Terezin.
The cast of "Butterfly" tells the story in a tight and dramatic 50-minute performance. In the production we saw on Friday night Madeline Popkin turned in a fine performance in the demanding role of Raja Englanderova, who survives the Terezin children's camp when everyone else perishes. Raja grows from non-communicative child to strong young woman in the course of the show. Equally strong is Cooper Burke as Honza Kosek, as Raja's boyfriend.
Miss Popkin and Lainie Robertson are double cast as Raja and Zdenka while Justin White and Burke are double cast as Honza and Pavel.

Living with death is unnatural for children, and playing the role of children in such dark cirsumstance stretches the young actors' skills. All come through impressively.
Directed by Dave Hart, "Butterfly" also includes Brad Owen (Father), Tania Lenore (Mother), Traci Gardner (Irena), Melanie Owen (Irena), Amy Rogers (Irca), and Patty Siebert (the adult Raja). The children of Terezin are played by Faith Augustine, Karis Horner, Emily Johnson, Clarke MacDonald, Gracie Mayer, Ava Moss, Ryan Nix, Caroline Owen, Eleanor Palmer, Brianna Rogers, and Samuel Umphlett.
It is profoundly sad to hear, at the beginning of the show, the children repeat their names, ages and when they perished at Auschwitz. One by one, as "Butterfly" goes on, each of the children, from 10 through 16, is taken away by the train. As Raja learns, they never come back.
One of the victims, Franta Bass, 14 years old, wrote a poem that survived the Terezin concentration camp.
I am a Jew.
I am a Jew and will be Jew forever.
Even if I should die from hunger,
Never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people
On my honor.
I will never be ashamed of them,
I give my word.
I am proud of my peop[le,
How dignified they are.
Even though I am suppressed,
I will always come back to life.

An effective part of the performance is the decision to seat the children on benches behind the stage but visible. Always there, they serve as a reminder.
As training, we imagined that role also teaches the young actors discipline of staying in character and contributing to the performance even when they have no lines and no movement on stage.
Agudas Israel Synagogue partnered with YouTheatre of Flat Rock Playhouse to commemorate the Holocaust with the presentation of the play.
We thought it was cool that we were able to insert an East Flat Rock dateline on a Flat Rock Playhouse review, maybe for the first time in history. The National Guard Armory (just east of Ingles) is a surprisingly suitable location for it. The show had to move there for production reasons.
"But also it really felt it was the right place to do this," said Playhouse staffer Lynn Penny. "It felt conducive to do this product."
On Veterans Day weekend, the point is well taken. Raja only survives because Allied forces defeat the Germans in 1945.
The creative team included the professional staff from Flat Rock Playhouse with scenic design by Christopher Fitzer, costume design by Ellen Iroff, lighting design by Nick Kunstle, sound design by Matt Foster and properties and set dressing by Paul Feraldi. The production will also receive assistance from YouTheatre students Sarah Hart as stage manager, Caroline Penny as assistant stage manager and technical support from Amelia Allen, Mia Augustine, Liberty Ingle and Liz Morgan.
The show continues with one more performance, at 2 p.m. today (Saturday). Tickets (open seating) are $18 for adults and $10 for students and children.