Review: …..and Stockings for the Ladies

by Lynn on October 14, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

…and Stockings for the Ladies

 At the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto until October 24. Written by Attila Clemann. Directed by Zach Fraser. Performed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company presents a RustWerk ReFinery production.

and Stockings for the Ladies is a story of the exploits of Ted Aplin and Stanley Winfield, during World War II. It’s about their heroism, humanity in the face of inhumanity, wilful disobedience and doing what you think is right.

Ted Aplin was British born but immigrated to Canada in 1930. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and quickly became a Pilot Officer teaching Air Force Law. From 1944 to 1946 he was posted overseas in Germany. When he saw the horrifying sight of the liberated inmates of Bergen-Belsen he resolved to help them. The play is based on Aplin’s many letters home to his wife.

Stanley Winfield was Canadian, a high school drop-out, and anxious to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight overseas in World War II. He met Aplin in Germany. Aplin was an office and Winfield was under his command. For the purposes of the play the character of Daniel Friedman is based on Stanley Winfield.

Aplin was determined to show the survivors of Bergen-Belsen humanity after such inhuman treatment. He planned a picnic for them; provided the transportation; the food; chocolates and toys for the children (who were saved by a heroic woman named Luba Tryzinska) and stockings for the ladies, hence the title. . He just didn’t manage to tell his superiors about it and there was hell to pay when they found out. Their attitude seemed to be to do as little as possible until the refugees could be sent elsewhere. Needless to say, Aplin disagreed with this idea and frequently clashed with his superiors. He went so far as to commandeer a plane that would in fact take many of those children to Palestine. Aplin had the guts and arrogance of a bandit and many of those people he helped own him their lives.

Daniel Friedman was usually dragged into the situation by Aplin who was his superior officer. Most of the time Friedman was reluctantly willing.

…and Stockings for the Ladies by Attila Clemann started as a one hour Toronto Fringe show. He has a vested interest in the story because he is Ted Aplin’s step-grandson.  Clemann has expanded it to two hours with one intermission. There are about twenty characters including Aplin and Friedman. I never saw the Fringe show. I do wonder if it was as bloated with unnecessary characters as this version.

I can appreciate the stories of Aplin and Friedman; those of Luba Tryzinska who saved those children; and how Aplin arranged for a German doctor to operate on Hanka Diamond’s horribly damaged legs when a drunk driver hit her. Those stories are told simply, without fuss. The simplicity and stillness of actor Brendan Howlett-McMurtry is very affecting and moving; either as the German doctor who points out the irony of a German operating on a Jewish woman just after the Germans were defeated; or Hanka describing her plight; or Luba expressing her joy at saving those children. But it’s all the other annoying stuff of Clemann’s script that gets in the way of actually moving the stories along.

Too often a character has one line conversations with other characters and it’s hard to keep track of them all. For example a soldier brings a telegram to Aplin. Aplin thanks him by name. The soldier thanks him in return and disappears, never to be seen again. Why do we need this unnecessary exchange? It stops the story.

The beginning is particularly distracting. There is a harried mother trying to control her unruly brood, with one child permanently affixed to her hip. She shifts and changes her focus with each sentence, telling that child to calm down; or that child to share his toys, and on and on. We don’t know who she is until later in the show so what purpose does she serve in the beginning, except to confuse. Or, a bus driver is driving his bus and talking to a passenger behind him. The passenger again we learn later is Friedman on his way to pay Aplin a call. The driver and Friedman have an on-going conversation interspersed all through the play. Why? It elongates a simple thought and gesture.

What is not in question is the physical dextrousness and nimble intellect of actor Brendan McMurtry-Howlett who plays all the parts. He flits from character to character without hesitation, complete with a whole set of physical idiosyncrasies, body language and many different voices to distinguish them all. He is a riveting actor who lends a quiet grace and courtliness to his characters. He’s wonderful. The play, however, isn’t and  needs to be rewritten and refocused.

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