By D. A. Blackburn
Despite inflammatory claims by Iran’s president, the Holocaust was a very real, very dark chapter in human history. The proof – if any is needed – is readily available in the form of tremendous emotional scars left upon its survivors. The Detroit Repertory Theatre’s latest production, the world premiere of Marc Kornblatt’s “Last Days of a Translator,” puts these wounds at the forefront of its plot, weaving a candid, heartwarming tale about grief, coping and emotional rebirth.
Set in New York in 1989, “Translator” hinges on the relationship between Samuel Isaacson (Greg Olszewski), a Polish Holocaust survivor who translates business communications from Eastern Europe, and Richard Schmidt (Stephen Blackwell), a temp agency typist – of German ancestry – hired to assist the aging linguist. Their relationship is initially tumultuous, but proves cathartic, as Schmidt breaks down Isaacson’s barriers and leads his elder toward inner peace.
On the periphery, a pair of endearing women helps to move the drama along. Office manager Ethel Wilkins (Milfordean Luster) grounds the work as a voice of reason, and delivers the work’s underlying message of hope for those coping with grief. Leslie Green (Inga Wilson), mail clerk and budding sci-fi writer, provides gentle comic relief – assisted by Judy Dery’s fun costuming – and ultimately sets events into motion that lead to Isaacson’s rebirth.
The Rep’s casting has a delightfully even quality to it. Olszewski and Blackwell give excellent performances in their principal roles, but Luster and Wilson ultimately drive the work with sincere portrayals of characters of equal depth.
The Repertory has pulled out all the stops bringing “Translator” to life. Highlights include a detailed, stylish set by Harry Wetzel, which uses every inch of the stage efficiently, and an inventive sound design by Burr Huntington, which uses real news audio to anchor the work in time and theme.
While Kornblatt’s script lacks an emotional wallop, it has a graceful arch and an insightful moral, much to the credit of his endearing characterizations.
‘Last Days of a Translator’
Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit. Thursday-Sunday through June 28. $17-$20. 313-868-1347. http://www.detroitreptheatre.com