Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s current world premiere of The Little Lion tackles one of the darkest and most devastating times in history – the Holocaust. The play, written by local playwright Irene Ziegler, is based on the historical novel by local author Nancy Wright Beasley.
The show, which takes place in Kovno, Lithuania, chronicles the story of Laibale Gillman, a Jewish teen whose mother nicknamed him the Little Lion for his determination and courage.
When we are first introduced to Laibale, he has dreams for the future that include vows of marriage to his girlfriend. But all of his dreams are abruptly shattered by the rise of the Nazis and the ensuing hysteria that often drew in fellow Lithuanians.
An ace when it comes to motorcycles, Laibale begins taking care of the Nazis’ motorcycles, which affords him more liberty than other Jews in the ghetto. He uses his expertise to eventually help save some of his family members, including his young niece, from the ghetto and sure death.
Any story that reflects the horrors of the Holocaust is sure to tap into your emotions and this one certainly does. While the first act does illustrate family normalcy and light moments in its beginning, the second act graphically plays out the atrocities that Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis and other persecutors.
Most of what people know about the Holocaust came from books, but this production makes it personal, taking you into the lives of a family that lost loved ones and sharing their pain.
There were three standout performances in this large 20-plus cast. Lisa Kotula stood strong and steadfast in her role as Laibale’s mother, a woman who always looked out for the needs of others before meeting her own needs. John Hagadorn was thoroughly convincing as the caring doctor who helped other Jews find ways to survive.
John Mincks poured life into Laibale’s story. His passionate performance provided valuable insight into the teen’s courage and defiance.
This production wouldn’t have the impact it does without the talent of lighting designer Joe Doran, costume designer Maura Lynch Cravey and projection and sound designer Jason “Blue” Herbert. Also integral are the music and sound effects by Paul Deiss. The sensory moments they created gives the show realism and depth.
Because of its honest interpretation of tragic historical themes, The Little Lion is recommended for families with mature middle schoolers. Part of the Acts of Faith Festival, The Little Lion runs through March 5. For showtimes and tickets, visit Swift Creek Mill.