In the exemplary Wilma Theater production (and U.S. premiere) of Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s “Our Class,” a scrim-veiled, eerily illuminated representation of a barn does triple duty. It serves, first of all, as the stage version of the barn where, in 1941, as many as 1,600 Jewish residents of the town of Jedwabne were herded and then immolated by their Polish neighbors. It is also a sort of spirit world where the dead wander, as the living narrate the story of the massacre and its aftermath. Finally, its shape evokes a church, a reminder of the role that Catholic institutions and beliefs played in fostering anti-Semitic atrocities.
That this play, a skillful amalgam of fact and fiction, was written by a Pole and has been performed extensively in Poland (where it won the country’s top literary prize) is perhaps the most astonishing thing about it. An extended indictment and cri de coeur, it must be overwhelming to encounter there, as an observer linked to its plot by geography and history. But even in Philadelphia in the comfortable confines of the Wilma, under the emotionally resonant and precise direction of Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka, “Our Class” (in an English version by Ryan Craig) is not an easy evening at the theater.