The play’s world premiere takes place at Amphibian Stage
By Amy Wolff Sorter
“At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl” was first published in 1987. Based on letters and diaries between a brother and sister who are considered an important part of resistance against the Nazis, the book allows the two protagonists, Hans Scholl and his younger sister, Sophie, tell their stories through the writings.
The White Rose movement, which had a strategy of passive resistance through the printing and distribution of six leaflets throughout German cities, is a compelling piece of history. It demonstrates that not all Germans were pro-Nazi and that younger Germans, in particular, were willing to stand up and voice defiance. What hasn’t been focused on, quite so much, is the emotional and spiritual journey of Hans and Sophie Scholl from staunch Nazi supporters, to disillusionment and horror of where Germany was headed, to their ultimate execution on Feb. 22, 1943.
The world premiere play, “Hans & Sophie,” tells that story. Created by Sean Hudock, Illana Stein and Deborah Yarchun, the play opens on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, and runs through March 1 at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth. Stein, who hails from Fort Worth, is also directing the play, while Hudock portrays Hans in the two-person cast. “There have been other plays about Sophie,” Stein said. “But I don’t know of any that take the story from their childhood to their execution. I was invested in understanding what turns someone who was a member of the Hitler Youth brigade into someone who defies it.”
Getting the story from book to stage began with Hudock, who thought the story could be converted into a meaningful play, and enlisted his good friend, Stein, into the effort. However, as neither had ever written a play before — “(Sean) is an actor-producer and I’m a dramaturg-director,” said Stein — they enlisted the assistance of Austin native Yarchun, an experienced, award-winning New York playwright. All three lived in New York and, according to Stein, the collaboration was “both exciting and challenging, especially as we came from different disciplines.”
“Hans & Sophie” became a three-year journey, undergoing many read-throughs and revisions, workshops and public readings. During the process, playwright/actor Rebekah Brockman joined the collaboration; she portrays Sophie in the show. The progression also required an understanding of Hans’ and Sophie’s characters and motivations, as well as research into the Hitler Youth movement and its philosophy. Stein, at one point, who had directed “A Lost Leonardo” at Amphibian Stage, reached out to Kathleen Culebro, the theater’s Founding Artistic Director, to tell her about “Hans and Sophie.” Culebro invited the writers to workshop the play, and obtain audience feedback in Fort Worth. “The audiences that came out, and stayed were engaged and wanted to be part of the process,” Stein commented. Because of the positive response, Amphibian Stage placed “Hans & Sophie” on its schedule for 2020.
During the play’s run, special events will take place. Following the 2 p.m. show on Sunday, Feb. 16, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County will sponsor a “talk-back” with the playwrights and actors. Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed on Feb. 22, 1943; the Feb. 22 performance will commemorate the event. The next day, Sunday, Feb. 23, Charlotte Decoster, director of education with the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights museum, will be the featured speaker following the matinee performance. The White Rose Foundation’s exhibit “White Rose: The Student Resistance Against Hitler, Munich, 1942-1943” will be in the lobby throughout the production. And, the book on which the play was based will also be available for sale.
For Stein, the process has done more than hone her playwriting skills. “It’s interesting to see a story of everyday by-standers, those who stood up against tyranny,” she observed. “That’s why this play is so incredibly hopeful.”
Additionally, that the idea of courage is something Stein hopes the audience takes away from the play. “Even though Sophie and Hans were executed, their resistance lived on,” she said, pointing out that the final leaflet, smuggled out of Germany, was copied and distributed to the advancing Allies, who dropped them all over Germany from aircraft. “Knowing that this message reached millions is extremely hopeful,” Stein said.
Finally, Stein said she enjoyed the writing experience, but is eager to return to New York and direct other plays. And, once “Hans & Sophie” finishes its run at Amphibian, she hopes the play will be produced elsewhere. “This is an important story to tell,” she said. “The goal is to reach as many people about this as possible.”