A couple is desperate to escape their home country. They write a letter to relatives in the United States hoping to find a way into the country so they can escape the horrors of war. Attached to the letter are some dress sketches the wife made, thinking that demonstrating her work skills will move immigration to admit the couple. They never make it to the United States, however, because changes to the country’s immigration policy closed up the borders to refugees.
Although it may sound like this story is ripped from today’s headlines, it is actually the story of Paul and Hedwig Strnad in 1939 Czechoslovakia as they seek a way to escape from Nazi persecution.
Their story is being told in a short play and exhibit presented by the Jewish Museum of Florida. The play, A Stitch in Time, is written by Susan Westfall, Literary Director of City Theatre in Miami, and directed by FIU Associate Professor Michael Yawney.
“When we started working on this play, we had no idea how relevant it would be,” he said. “I thought we were going to be working on a play about a historical tragedy and it turns out we’re working on a play about issues we face today.”
The play’s action centers around the December 11, 1939 drafting of the letter the Strnads sent to their family in America. After the play, the audience is able to see the actual letter in the related exhibit, Stitching History from the Holocaust, where Hedwig’s beautiful dress designs are also brought to life.
The exhibit was initially commissioned by the Jewish Museum Milwaukee after the Strnad’s letter and sketches were discovered in their family’s basement. The Museum then enlisted the costume shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater to construct the garments from Hedy’s designs.
“Hedy’s designs are gorgeous and whimsical,” said Yawney. “They have an exuberance that shows Hedy’s spirit survived, even as the darkness closed in.”
When the exhibit came down to Miami, the Jewish Museum of Florida commissioned Westfall to write the one-act play to accompany the exhibition.
“I think it speaks to the vision of the Jewish Museum of Florida because rather than just archiving the history of a people, this institution looks forward to see what wisdom that history can offer future generations,” said Yawney.
Remaining performances take place Wednesday, February 1 and Sunday, February 5 at the Jewish Museum of Florida, 301 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The exhibit runs through March 19.