MUSKEGON — Honoring the life and legacy of a young Muskegon woman who died 10 years ago, a Holocaust play focusing on Jewish children in a WW II concentration camp will be staged Nov. 4 at Muskegon Community College (MCC).
Playwright Celeste Raspanti’s one-act memory drama “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” will have performances at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in Overbrook Theater on the MCC campus. The show is being presented by MCC and The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Performances will be followed by conversations with the cast and artistic staff. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults. They may be purchased by calling the MCC box office, (231) 777-0324.
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly is set in the 1940s in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, what is now the Czech Republic.
Raspanti adapted her play from Czech author Hana Volavkova’s 1994 book of the same title, a collection of poems and drawings by Jewish children who lived in Terezin. Told primarily from the point of view of a real-life Terezin survivor, a teenaged girl named Raja Englanderova, the play recounts the harsh conditions in the camp; the fears, courage and resilience of the people confined there; and the eventual transportation of prisoners from Terezin to the infamous Auschwitz death camp.
More than 15,000 children passed through Terezin. About 100 were still alive when Soviet Army troops liberated the camp in 1945.
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” was first performed locally 20 years ago, at Mona Shores High School, for International Holocaust Remembrance Week.
Starring as Raja was Shores student Gilana Alpert, daughter of Rabbi Alan and Anna Alpert. After high school, Gilana Alpert returned to Muskegon to direct “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” as part of her Indiana University graduate studies.
Gilana Alpert accidentally died in 2007. She was 26 years old. The current “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” will raise money for Gilana’s Fund, a nonprofit organization run by the Alpert family through the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. Gilana’s Fund is dedicated to educational programming that promotes acceptance and understanding.
The current “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” production is being co-directed by Anna Alpert and Lynn Frisinger. In 1997, Frisinger directed the Mona Shores production in which Gilana Alpert starred.
“Gilana was a force,” Frisinger said. “She was a gifted, bright, joyful, compassionate young woman, and made the play special.”
Frisinger said that, last fall, she and Anna Alpert talked about the increasing incidents of violence and vandalism against Muslim mosques, Jewish cemeteries and Christian churches.
“Anna and I had a discussion that ended up with this project,” Frisinger said. “It is time to bring back this play, to remember and celebrate Gilana, and to remember what we promised never to forget.”
The cast of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is mostly made up of Muskegon County high and middle school students.
Starring as Raja is Holly Lynn Persicke, a 17-year-old senior at North Muskegon High School. Other student actors include Tiffany Bartlett, Destiny Lafayette Love, Kayden Michael Cilla, Bella Rae Resterhouse, Rachel Grace Stein, Grant Kowaleski, Riley Ann McEvoy, Martaven De’Shaun Hardy, Olivia Ward, Jolecia Monae Andrews, Kiona Porchia, Cardia Lawton, Antalayia Elaine Seals-Williams and Charles L. Hardy.
Adults in the cast include retired teacher Barbara Kolen, attorney Joshua Stewart EldenBrady, Muskegon County Commissioner Bob Scolnik, and West Michigan actor and playwright Bill Iddings. Musical direction for “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is by Elizabeth Jackson.