Holocaust play “The Last Cyclist” to air on WNET
Rabbi Norman Patz, the rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, and his wife, Naomi, co-produced the film “The Last Cyclist.” It will air on WNET Thirteen’s “Theatre Close-Up” on August 16 at 9:30 p.m., and again on August 21 at 11 p.m. The film, directed by Edward Einhorn, is the performance of a rediscovered dark comedy originally written and rehearsed in 1944 at the Nazi concentration camp of Terezín. “The Last Cyclist” premiered in February 2020 at the Mene Tekel Film Festival in Prague and won awards at the Chain NYC Festival and the Melech Film Festival in Israel.
The original script for “The Last Cyclist”, by 27-year-old playwright Karel Švenk, was lost during the Holocaust when Švenk was sent to die. But that has not been forgotten; it gained mythical status among survivors despite being banned following its dress rehearsal.
Naomi Patz learned of its powerful impact on inmates at the Terezin camp and was deeply moved. She reconstructed and reinvented the bitter satire based on everything she could find about it, especially by the sole survivor of the cast. She re-enacted the satire of Nazism in which cyclists are blamed for all societal ills, and added her message of defiance in the face of prejudice and bullying to implicitly speak to today’s society.
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Staged in front of an audience for film capture at La MaMa in 2017, the critically acclaimed immersive production – which treats the audience as if they were watching the play’s dress rehearsal with fellow Terezín ghetto inmates – is a new addition to the historical record of Nazi Atrocities, as well as a fascinating artifact of Jewish resilience and resistance to murderous racial intolerance.
In “The Last Cyclist”, a group of concentration camp inmates rehearse an absurd comedy about escapees from an insane asylum who hate their cycling doctor and target all cyclists, on whom they blame the misfortunes of the world. . A schlemiel of a hero who buys a bike to impress his girlfriend becomes the number one enemy of lunatics. The leader of the escapees and his followers exploit the growing anti-cyclist hysteria they have fomented and plot to wipe out all the cyclists by sending them to Horror Island where they will starve not so slowly.
The incidental music for the play and the film’s score are composed by award-winning composer Stephen Feigenbaum, whose work was commissioned by the Terezín Music Foundation. Feigenbaum adapted Švenk’s moving March of Terezín, which became the unofficial anthem of prisoners interned in the camp. (Adapted lyrics are by Naomi Patz.) Artist Mark Podwal created the art inspired by the opening credits.
For more information, visit www.thelastcyclist.com