November 19, 2019

Loss, survival — cue the music

“When I told my son I was going to write a musical about the Holocaust,” playwright and Holocaust survivor Lucy Deutsch recalled, “he raised both arms and screamed, ‘Mother, how can you do that? Those two words don’t belong together!’

“I answered, ‘Yes they do, if you look at the full circle.’ My musical takes you from the happy times before the Holocaust, through the Holocaust, and then to my life after the Holocaust. Somehow the world forgot that the Holocaust stories that are written and made into movies depict only the Holocaust. What happens to the people after the Holocaust? How did they break through that pain and everything else? This musical goes full circle and includes the beautiful songs I wrote.”

Deutsch’s musical, “No Time to Weep,” opens this weekend at the Matrix Theatre. The songs in the show are particularly appealing to Caitlin Gallogly, who plays Deutsch from ages 14 to 28, because of how they facilitate the action.

“Instead of having soliloquies the way you would have in ‘Hamlet,’ you have these beautiful, heart-wrenching numbers, some of which are very innocent and some of which are really dark and harrowing, and I just thought that was amazing. It was completely avant-garde and crazy, and I thought, ‘Yes, yes, I want to do this.’ ” 

Gallogly described her character at age 14 — before Auschwitz — as a somewhat naive young girl with simple, typical teenage concerns, who is experiencing the first rush of puppy love, and whose life is filled with love and laughter. 

“She hasn’t been exposed yet to the sort of trickling story coming in of what happened to Jews when they were taken away. But she was wearing the yellow star. She was aware of restrictions on her life, and, I think, importantly, those concerns, which were always in the background, until suddenly they were not, those things were informing the way that she developed as a person.”

Deutsch grew up in the Carpathian Mountains, in an area that was taken from Czechoslovakia by Hitler and given to Hungary, a German ally during World War II. She said that Miklós Horthy, Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, was able to resist Hitler’s persecution of the Jews until 1944.

But then, one morning, Deutsch’s family was abruptly arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, taken to a ghetto and then transported to Auschwitz. Although she didn’t realize it until much later, her mother and younger siblings, who were sent “to the left” upon arrival at the camp, were immediately exterminated. Her father and older sister ultimately died as well. 

“I’m not camouflaging the Holocaust,” Deutsch said, “because many things happened to me in Auschwitz which I couldn’t include in the musical; my life hung in the balance every day. I was afraid the German soldiers who came to count the prisoners would pull me out and send me to the crematorium because I was a child. I was the shortest of them all. The women always hid me behind them. Once a soldier pulled me out of the line, and I fell to his knees and begged him not to take me.”

Refusing to succumb, Lucy managed to survive. Many of the women did not.

“Some of the women gave up, and they became very weak and sick, and everybody knew they would not survive,” Deutsch said. “Those who stood up, and those who took life as it was and knew they had to fight for it to stay alive, they survived. And I learned early to do that. I couldn’t give up. I was a child. Naturally, I was beaten up also, because the German women and the kapos all had sticks as they walked about. And I always opened my mouth, telling them that they shouldn’t do that, and then I got hit.”

After liberation she met Mickey Deutsch, who is now her ex-husband. The two fled to Germany and a Displaced Persons camp, married, and, in 1948, set sail for Israel. As soon as they landed, Mickey was taken into the Israeli army. Lucy went into the Air Force and worked as a hostess in a cantina for the pilots.

Ten years later, she moved to America, where she became successful in business. She created a clutch bag for women that had artwork on it and was known as the “magazine clutch.” She subsequently manufactured leather bags, briefcases and binders that sold around the country. Then, when she broke her leg in 1987 and was confined to bed, she began to write her autobiography, “Shattered Childhood,” which ultimately inspired her musical. Since that time, writing has been a constant pursuit for her. 

Deutsch stressed that by dramatizing her life, she intends to present what she considers a different perspective on the Holocaust. “This story shows how, from the Holocaust, beauty is born. It’s inspirational. Something beautiful can develop, as one can see from my last song in the play, which is about planting a seed for salvation, so we can see it grow. ‘From its cradle it will know liberty.’ I wrote that song from my heart.

“I want the audience to come out feeling that it’s OK, people can survive. People can make a good living, a good life. People can love again.” 

It was this indomitable spirit that captivated Christopher Callen, who portrays Deutsch at age 65, during the height of her career as a manufacturer.

“We see many, many things about the Holocaust, and, as Lucy says, so often they just end it at the crematorium, and they don’t go further about those who did survive,” Callen said. “I think that’s a most important story to tell, because I feel we always need to be reminded, and maybe more so than ever in this day and time, that the human spirit can survive anything, even something as horrendous as the Holocaust.” 

Callen feels her task is to capture Deutsch’s larger-than-life personality and her spirit.

At 82, Deutsch says she still finds daily challenges in life. “If I give up, I will feel completely empty, with nothing to live for. So, I embrace every challenge, and I’m going to follow up on each one, particularly now that I’m doing my musical, which is a big challenge, and I greet it every morning the same way. I’m still alive, still vibrant, and still going strong.”

“No Time to Weep” runs Saturday, April 14 through Sunday, June 3 (Red Carpet Premiere — April 14th). Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (Ample Street Parking).  $30.00 General Admission. Seniors and Students with proper ID use Promo Code 007 for $5 off.  Reservations: (323) 960-7780