Prime Stage Theatre honors its mission of bringing literature to life with a world-premiere commissioned play of "The Devil's Arithmetic," an adaptation of the Holocaust time-travel novel by Jane Yolen.
The play that previews Friday and opens Saturday at the New Hazlett Theater has been adapted for the stage by playwright Barry Kornhauser to tell the story of Hannah, a modern-day teen who grudgingly accepts her family's Jewish traditions. When she is asked to "open the front door" as part of the Passover rituals, she finds that she has stepped into the life of a prisoner at a German death camp during World War II.
Hannah learns about survival, faith, family and friendship amid the horrors of a concentration camp.
Playwright and educator Kornhauser worked for 32 years with the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pa., and has been honored by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education with its award for "a body of distinguished work by a nationally known writer of outstanding plays for children." He also has received Pennsylvania's "Best Practices Honor" and the state's first Educational Theatre Award "for outstanding service by an individual for the advancement of theater education in the Commonwealth."
"The Devil's Arithmetic" was previously a 1999 TV movie starring Kirsten Dunst, Brittany Murphy and Louise Fletcher. It earned four Daytime Emmy nominations and won two, for directing a children's special (Donna Deitch), writing (Robert J. Avrech).
Writing of Mr. Kornhauser's adaptation of her work, novelist Yolen said:
"I am sitting here sobbing, having finished reading the play. I have to say that I have seen the movie that was made of the book, and several other treatments for plays based on it, but this script honors the book more than any other one attempted. You ... got to the heart, the blood, the bone of my story.
"Now I have to get some more Kleenex."
Prime Stage's production is directed by Lisa Ann Goldsmith and features original Klezmer music by Tom Roberts.
Saturday night's opening show will be followed by a reception. A special Mother's Day event with the author will follow Sunday's performance, when Ms. Yolen will present "Remember, O, Remember: How I Wrote The Devil's Arithmetic" and do a book signing.
The commission and Ms. Yolen's visit were made possible by The Jewish Federation, Giant Eagle Foundation, Children's Theater Foundation of America, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Classrooms Without Borders and the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh.