We must be silent, here in this secret attic apartment where two Jewish families are hiding from the Nazis. And so, in “The Hidden Ones,” a spare and chilling immersive theater piece, the seven audience members sit on the bed, or in a corner chair or on a box, and silently witness the cast of seven silently go about their day – sitting around the dining table carefully parceling out the food, tidying up, folding laundry (and silently instructing us to help.) One of the fathers takes two of us into his “study” to help him polish his shot glasses; it seems evident that he does this every day; they are a precious reminder of the possessions now largely lost.
The attic is poorly lit; the “rooms” are divided by hanging sheets that function as walls, doors and curtains, affording only the illusion of privacy, and adding to the atmosphere of dread.
When the work whistle sounds below, those in hiding relax a little, though remain silent, as they turn on the radio and listen to American jazz — romantic melodies like Sentimental Journey, Stardust and Blues in the Night. It is a choice that is not only historically accurate; it offers a hint of the longing the characters feel, and the stark contrast between what was and what is. They even occasionally dance to the music, quietly. Even when not literally dancing, every gesture (choreography by Whitney Sprayberry) offers clues to their world and their emotions..
Still, the audience as a whole gets only vague hints of specific character and story. We know no names; we must figure out relationships. One of the men (Chris Jumper) explodes in frustration (but silently) before he is restrained and calmed by the two other males, including his son (Amar Biamonte). That son and the other family’s daughter (Biamonte and Rakel Aroyo) engage in a timid, tentative romance. Like much of the “action,” you have to be seated in the right place to notice their holding hands under the dinner table.
At different moments in the hour-long experience, a cast member takes one or two audience members aside and actually speaks, albeit in a whisper.
The boy’s mother (Monica Blaze Leavitt) takes two of us into the bathtub, curtained off in the back, and tells us the story of a woman who had been in hiding with an infant who wouldn’t stop crying. “Finally she was given a choice by the other adults: Take your crying baby and leave…or kill the infant. She smothered it….I don’t remember if the mother cried, but you didn’t have the luxury of weeping.” Each cast member (I learned later) confided similar tales of horror to one or two theatergoers.
Even the most well-positioned and perceptive audience member is allowed only a very limited glimpse of all that’s going on in “The Hidden Ones.” And there’s not that much going on, compared to the most popular works of immersive and site-specific theater, which offer such richness of detail that they effectively double as art installations and take hours to explore. Yet, by keeping us in the dark, both literally and metaphorically, “The Hidden Ones” suggests in a very small but disquieting way the darkness of the Holocaust.
After the inevitable but still shocking conclusion to the show, the Resistance fighter who had led us to the apartment in the first place (Anthony Logan Cole), leads us out, and gives us false identification papers (which upon opening them, turned out to be the program.) In the lobby of the building (in a location that is only disclosed once you get the tickets, but feels quite apt), all the audience members stayed put, telling each other the stories we had heard.
The Hidden Ones
At an undisclosed location in the West 50s
Conceived and directed by Anthony Logan Cole
Choreographed by Whitney Sprayberry, scenic design by Braden Hooder
Cast: Amar Biamonte as the boy, Chirs Jumper as the boy’s father, Monica Blaze Leavitt as the boy’s mother, Rakel Aroyo as the girl, Jay Stuart as the girls’ father, Marley Madding as the girl’s mother, Anthony Logan Cole as the man.
Running time: One hour
Tickets: $100, available at www.TheHiddenNYC.com.
The production is recommended for ages 16+
The Hidden Ones is scheduled to run through December 2, 2018