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Jewish freedom-fighter subject of 1-woman show.
Michael Fox
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
January 3, 1992

Lois Silverstein was engrossed in a visualization exercise in a "theater-making workshop" led by a A Traveling Jewish Theatre's Corey Fischer when, lo and behold, she had a vision.

She saw a woman named Valia, a Polish Jew who had participated in the resistance to the Nazis in the '30s. The way Silverstein relates the tale, she began following Valia around, accumulating more details of her story.

Now, after two years of historical research, artistic collaboration and work-in-process performances, Silverstein is ready to share Valia with the audience.

Valia: The Story of a Woman of Courage opens Friday Jan. 17 at the Brava Studio Theatre, 2180 Bryant St. in San Francisco's Mission District. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 1. Information is available at (510)464-3051.

Extending the Jewish theme to the theater itself, the walls are embellished with the works of Richard Kamler, Howard Margolis, Richard Rosen, and Jo Milgrom. For those who can't take in the performance in person, Silverstein also will perform Valia twice on the radio this month-Thursday, Jan. 9 on KALX and Wednesday, Jan. 22 on KPFA.

It should be noted, to avoid any misunderstanding, that Valia is a fictional character, as are the other four characters-all Jewish-that Silverstein plays in the course of the multi-textured one-hour performance.

The story's historical backdrop, however, is completely factual. The Nazis gradually asserted more and more control over Poland from 1923 until they finally invaded in 1939. Valia depicts that dark chapter through dozens of slides, as well as a newscaster character who describes the latest developments. The mixture of fiction and fact is given another emotional dimension by Thomas Slocumb's live accompaniment on cello and lap harp.

Silverstein, 53, describes Valia as "a multimedia piece that jumps out of storytelling to show a world view shaped by war." The solo performance examines some of the events that led to "the dissonant, fractured world in which we are all seeking order and wholeness." While Valia is inevitably about loss, Silverstein's intention is to acknowledge female strength, thereby delivering a message of affirmation. "Valia is a woman of vision," she explains, "and she faces the Holocaust with courage and dignity."

After years of teaching and writing, Valia represents several firsts for Silverstein. It is her first extended Jewish piece, as well as her first journey beyond personal concerns to political considerations. It also marks her first appearance on stage since she was a young girl.

"My mother said 'Don't be an actress,'" Silverstein relates, even though theater was her first love. Then, years later, as Valia took shape, her mother innocently asked, "How come you weren't an actress? You're so good."

Silverstein was born in New York, but left 30 years ago after graduation from Barnard College at Columbia University. In 1969 Silverstein settled in the Bay Area, and has continued to teach while maintaining a steady output of poetry, essays, and criticism.

Her most recent book, Bloodletting: A Mind at Midlife, was published in November. A narrative that encompasses poems, letters journal entries and graphics, Bloodletting is in part an examination of Silverstein's relationship with her mother.

Silverstein recalls that on the occasion of her first menstrual period she received a slap from her mother. When she asked for an explanation, her mother responded, "I don't know. Jewish superstition."

A member of Berkeley's Aquarian Minyan, Silverstein describes both Valia and Bloodletting as turning points in her religious identity. "I feel strengthened in my Judaism," she says, "and in being able to go into my past."

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Contact Lois Silverstein (510) 464-3051

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