For young actors struggling to find motivations for their characters, plays about World War II can pose a particularly difficult challenge.
Few things are more foreign to the minds and experiences of young Americans than the horrors and battles of that distant war. And as it recedes further into history, lessons that once seemed indelible have become increasingly abstract and difficult to grasp.
That's where Sophia Veffer comes in.
As a young girl in Amsterdam, Veffer, who is Jewish, hid from the Nazis for much of their long occupation of the Netherlands before being captured and eventually freed. Though she declined to discuss the details of her experience, Veffer said that it almost precisely mirrored that of Anne Frank, the young girl whose diary contains a harrowing account of her family's unsuccessful attempt to evade capture by the Nazis in Amsterdam. Except, of course, for one important detail: She survived.
Veffer, who has lived in Buffalo for the past 55 years, was called on to share her experiences as a Holocaust survivor with the cast of Theatre of Youth's production of "Number the Stars," a play adapted from Lois Lowry's fictional account of a young Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust with her family in Denmark. The play opens tonight in the Allendale Theatre.
During a recent rehearsal, Veffer sat down with cast members on the Allendale stage to talk about her experiences during the war and about the way in which a single individual -- in the case of "Number the Stars," King Christian of Denmark -- can make an enormous difference by standing up for what is right.
Meg Quinn, Theatre of Youth's artistic director, recalled her first meeting with Veffer in 2000, when she met with the cast of a Theatre of Youth production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
"She had brought with her one of the yellow stars that had been worn by someone [during the war]. I just remember her passing it around the table and all of us just touched it. I've never forgotten what that felt like, and it just took us to a whole different level of understanding the play," Quinn said.
Veffer made a similar contribution this time around, she said, by highlighting the importance of King Christian's uncommon bravery and courage during the Nazi occupation.
Most royal families, Veffer said, fled to England and on to the United States or Canada to wait out the war. "But the Danish King stayed," she said. "Not only did he stay, he was very sympathetic to the Jewish people, so when the Jews had to wear a star, he was also wearing a star to show the Danish people, and especially the Danish Jews, that he was on their side."
Veffer will participate in a talk-back session following Sunday's matinee performance of the play, which begins at 2 p.m. She said her purpose in addressing the crowd will be to "show, especially the children, that one person can make a difference, that we live in a global society and that we should talk out when we see something that we don't like."
She added: "Everybody should try to be vocal when they see injustice in this world."
WHAT: "Number the Stars"
WHEN: Tonight through Feb. 13
WHERE: Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St.
TICKETS: $19 to $21
INFO: 884-4400 or www.theatreofyouth.org