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La Nuit’ explores tragedy of Holocaust experience

La Nuit‘ (The Night)
St. Mary’s Academy
1615 S.W. Fifth Avenue
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. (box office open one hour before show)
$8 students, $18 general public

Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical Holocaust narrative “La Nuit” (The Night) will be performed Friday night at St. Mary’s Academy, as part of a 14-city tour sponsored by the D퀌�l퀌�gation G퀌�n퀌�rale de l’Alliance Fran퀌_aise. The story, which tells of Wiesel’s life in the Jewish community in Transylvania, has sold millions of copies in numerous languages since its first publication in French in 1958, and is one of the best-known and respected accounts of the Jewish Holocaust experience.

The story begins in 1941 in Sighet, Romania, Wiesel’s hometown. There, the Jewish community refuses to believe the seriousness of the deportations of Jews, including Mosh퀌� the Beadle, a Jew who escaped from Poland after experiencing atrocities there. The warnings that he brought back to Sighet were met with a lukewarm reception, and the Jews there remained optimistic, even as German soldiers occupied the town in spring 1944 and some 12,000 Hungarian Jews were being deported every day.

The tour was put together in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was April 9, and has been praised everywhere it has stopped. The Chicago Tribune called it “the chronicle of one teenaged Jewish boy’s spiritual destruction” and “a tale of misplaced and bloody optimism,” as the Jews keep telling themselves that things cannot get worse, even as they do.

“The story is really about humanism, as it could apply to any sort of persecution of any group,” said Jean-Claude Paris of the Portland chapter of the l’Alliance Fran퀌_aise. “It should not be seen as being specific to the Jewish people, but it is broader than that, as Wiesel has fought against abuses throughout the world.”

The performance is an adaptation by French stage and film director Claude Vajda, and features the one-man performance of Alain Mottet, a former member of the famous French national theater, La Com퀌�die Fran퀌_aise. Mottet is also a longtime friend of Wiesel. whose talent can be seen in various films by Louis Malle, Albert Camus, Roger Planchon and others, and has appeared in over 20 original productions of works by such playwrights such as Adamov, Ionesco and Pinter.

Vajda, who is originally from Hungary, adapted and directed this version of “La Nuit” to critical acclaim first in 1995, and has also done work in film and television, including editing Marcel Oph퀌_ls’ documentary “The Sorrow And The Pity.” He has also filmed television movies such as “The Louvre from Van Eyck to Durer” and “Picasso-Portraits,” while even directing Jean Cocteau’s “La Voix Humaine” for the stage. In his direction notes, he calls “La Nuit” “neither play, nor reading, perhaps a monologue, certainly a text.

His version will be focused on the first third of Wiesel’s memoir, and will be in French with English surtitles superimposed above the stage, which will be a minimally sparse set up with just a few items with which Mottet has to work. Mottet will seek to sustain the emotions of this gripping personal account in his 75 minutes on stage, which should be more than enough for audiences to feel the tremendous weight of its tragedy.