Playwright Ari Roth stumbles sometimes when discussing the characters in “Andy and the Shadows,” his family drama that opens this week at Washington, D.C.’s Theater J. In fact, when Roth discusses Nate, the patriarch in the work, he slips, saying, “my father.” It’s undestandable, for Roth, long-time artistic director of Washington D.C. JCC-based theater, has fused elements of his own family history with fantasy, fact and fiction, in crafting his most personal work to date.
In the play, protagonist and sometime narrator Andy Glickstein is a filmmaker and the son of Holocaust refugees who is about to become engaged. His return home ignites a tangle of memories about his parents’ escapes from Hitler’s Europe that intrude on a busy American life on Chicago’s South Side. Is Roth, a Chicago native, son of Holocaust refugees? Yes. Then where does Roth’s story end and Andy’s begin? “I would move to do as much separating as possible,” Roth insisted, “but I think that would be a fruitless task at the same time. Any experienced reader of fiction or watcher of plays knows that there are critical differences, but at the same time there are also similarities to the author’s life and his creation. You’re borrowing, you’re referencing history … and then you’re making stuff up.”
Roth’s mother, clinical psychiatrist Chaya Roth, was a hidden child, like Raya in the play. In her 2008 memoir, “The Fate of Holocaust Memories,” she recalls her experiences being disguised as a Catholic orphan while living in a Rome convent, where, against her mother’s wishes, she took communion with the other children. His father, Walter, an attorney, was born in Germany and wrote about his pre-war childhood and about his return trips five decades later in his 2013 memoir, “Departure and Return: Trips to and Memories from Roth, Germany.”