Gemma @ #FringeNYC 'Do This One Thing for Me' - kind of felt like being on a school trip
What’s it about?
Do This One Thing For Me is a solo show written and performed by Jane Elias, whose father survived Auschwitz after he was taken there as a teenager from Greece. On a quest to honor her aging father and family legacy, Jane sets off to Poland to participate in the March of the Living.
I’m Jewish on my mother’s side and Greek on my father’s side. And yet, I have always felt more tethered to my Judaism than I have to my Greekness. I’d wager my brother would say the same. Why is it that siblings with the same two parents would feel more of a connection to one parent’s ancestry than the other’s? In my bother’s and my case, our faith, even only culturally speaking, matters more to us than the country where our father was born and raised.
That is not to say that my brother and I rejected our Greek side. Not at all. As a child, I attended a Greek Orthodox school for pre-K where I learned the Greek alphabet, the Greek national anthem and participated in the Greek Independence Day Parade (complete with a ride in a horse and buggy). My brother attended the same school until 3rd grade.
Our family has also spent summers in Greece since I was old enough to fly. Greece is one of my favorite places to travel, period. It is where I learned to swim, where I climbed a tree that was over 1,000 years old and where I made some of my best childhood memories.
I always viewed my Greekness and my Jewishness as two separate sides of myself, with the Jewishness winning by a landslide. I wasn’t a Greek Jew, I was a Jew who happened to be Greek. I still see myself that way.
Prior to the show, I grabbed a bite to eat with my boyfriend Jon. Jon isn’t a huge theatre person, so I am slowly, but determinedly, introducing culture into his life. 😉 I knew a Fringe show would be unlike anything he had ever seen before. He had only ever been to Broadway or Off-Broadway shows. I don’t think he had ever seen a solo show.
We made our way to FringeHub, which was basically a couple of tents surrounded by different colored flags representing each show. Our show’s flag was yellow, so we lined up behind it. It kind of felt like being on a school trip, or one of those cheesy tour groups. I think the building must have been some sort of dance school, because were led to a dance studio with mirrors all along one side of the room. A single chair sat in the middle of the space. This was Jane’s stage.
I could make out people speaking Greek behind me. I don’t speak Greek at all. It’s embarrassing, but I know more Spanish from school (which is hardly any) than I do Greek. But I do recognize it when I hear it. I wondered how many Greek people, and how many Greek Jews specifically were in the audience.
Jane and her father had a special bond. They spoke daily — in fact, her father insisted, even into her adult years, that she “do this one thing for [him]” and call him at least once a day. To Jane, this seemed a ridiculous, if well-meaning, request. I didn’t see much of a problem with it. I still live with my parents, and I happily call my mom at least once a day of my own free will. If I lived in a different state than my parents I’m sure I’d call them twice as much, if not more.
Jane’s father was an inspiration. Hearing her put on his voice and mannerisms so effortlessly to tell us his experience during WWII was chilling. He was only 15 years old when it all happened. He lost nearly his entire family. And after surviving something so brutal, he still devoted most of his time to worrying about his children, especially Jane, whom he wanted to see married to a Jewish man. In his mind, settling down and having children meant you were happy, because “it’s no good being alone.” He brought up his daughter’s marital status almost every time he spoke to her, which bothered Jane to no end. She knew he had her best interests at heart, but she didn’t want to be rushed into marriage simply to please her father. Besides, she wasn’t even sure she ever saw herself getting married. Her father wasn’t getting any younger, so she decided to pay tribute to him and their family’s sacrifices another way: Visiting Poland with her father to take part in the March of the Living, an annual educational program that brings students and young people from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust.
Jane broke the news about her decision to her father, but he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want to go on such a trip himself, but more importantly, he didn’t want Jane to go either. Ignoring his wishes, Jane left for Poland anyway. It wasn’t until she was inside Auschwitz that she felt the weight of it all. Overcome with emotion, she read out the names of every one of her family members that died in the Holocaust. It was a long list. Jane’s companions on her March of the Living trip were so moved that they personally thanked her and even prayed for all of the family she had lost. Jane filmed the prayers and sent them to her parents. After her father saw the video, he thanked Jane, which she had a hard time wrapping her head around.
Jane sat at her father’s deathbed. The doctor had told her that he didn’t know if her father could hear her, but it didn’t hurt to try. She sang to him and reminisced about the past. One memory stood out to her. Sometime in college there was a ball, and Jane had jokingly asked her father to be her date. Her father took the invite very seriously, so seriously that he got all dressed up and flew to where she was so he could accompany her to the dance. Naturally, he mentioned that he would one day soon, God willing, be dancing with her at her wedding. As it turned out, Jane would never have the experience of dancing with her father at her wedding. He would die before that could happen. But she had her memories, her father’s extraordinary life experiences and his love for her. She was so proud to be his daughter.
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