A melancholy piano tune set the tone for the beginning of “Sisters in the Resistance,” a play based on interviews conducted by French Professor Monique Saigal, performed from Feb. 23 to Feb. 26 in the Seaver Theatre at Pomona College.
As the piano continued to play, the lights dimmed and within a few seconds, the theater went dark.
The lights flicked on, the piano piece finished and the set revealed the interior of a kitchen with a table and to the side was a dining room set.
The humble set permitted the actors to perform and provide function as they casually baked a cake in the kitchen.
Melodious French music filled the theater throughout the play to provide authentication and allowed the audience to step back in time as these characters told their stories.
The play took place in modern day with stories of three courageous women who fought the Nazis during the German occupation of France during World War II as resistance fighters.
In their own words, they shared among themselves and then addressed the audience with their true stories of valor.
The play concentrated on the French women that provided a voice to these underrepresented groups that had a vast part in history.
“I started interviews in 2001,” Saigal said. “I had filmed the women’s interviews and worked up until 2004. I started writing it during my 2005 sabbatical.”
A long process was developed to locate the surviving women. The title of the play came from a book with the same title by Margaret Collins Weitz.
“The book inspired me a lot; I used the bibliography from the book as a reference,” Saigal said. “I had also contacted publishers—they gave me addresses to the women who have written books (about their experiences). My mother knew a woman and she had contacts. I also saw a rabbi and went to the national library in France.”
Saigal also works for the Foundation of Resistance where she did research.
She has connections through her grandmother who lived in Auschwitz, her father who fought in the war and her mother who never shared her experiences of the Holocaust.
These factors led Saigal to do research herself and further her knowledge of this topic.
The performances mirrored the research and were entertaining and informative. It was well received by the audience comprised of various ages.
“It was emotionally moving and well-researched,” said Nancy Helland, who was visiting from Columbia, Mo. “It was so poignant. The three distinct personalities on stage were wonderfully done.”
“I also enjoyed that they baked a cake during the play,” Alan Helland, Nancy’s husband, said. “I liked the aroma filling the theatre, it is rare to see that in live theater.”
Students who have learned about the Holocaust and resistance groups are familiar with the stories but probably have not heard the actual words being spoken.
“I thought it was interesting,” said Tara Beatty, anthropology major at Pitzer College. “It was fascinating that the theater and French departments used real interviews.”
Kady Lane, a Pitzer college art and foreign languages major agreed.
“It was touching,” Lane said. “I thought it was fun to see the dancing and singing. I also liked that they used the French national anthem.”
In attendance was a woman who was an authentic resistance fighter.
She and a group of people originated the resistance in France; one of her many tasks was passing messages.
Marguerite McIntosh, 80, remained strong and stood by her husband who was an American soldier.
She met him when he attended art classes in Scripps College while she took classes.
She later taught French for several years at Pomona College.
“I enjoyed the play. I like that they used the French music,” McIntosh said. “It was wonderful and natural. The acting was very convincing. They didn’t dramatize the story, but rather it contained enough charm (to tell the story). It was entertaining and it kept my interest to the end.”
McIntosh knew and lost many people that were directly affected by the situation.
It is a subject that must be handled delicately since it involved many people all over the world.
“Sisters in the Resistance” was both educational and tender, and provided an insight to how these women lived their young adult lives during the Holocaust.
“It’s important for young people to see how people their age were not afraid to take risks to help people who were being victimized,” Saigal said. “Whether being Jewish in that case or just being different today, people are still being victimized. It still happens today.”
Jaclyn Gonzales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.