If the music does not impact you, the story will

By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Kersh Branz, Courtesy of 3Below

L-R Bryan Watson, Jim Ambler, John Minagro, Susan Gundunas, Stephen Guggenheim, Krista Wigle and James Raasch
L-R Bryan Watson, Jim Ambler, John Minagro, Susan Gundunas, Stephen Guggenheim, Krista Wigle and James Raasch.

SAN JOSÉ, CA –  At the 3Below Theaters & Lounge  in San José,  “THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE” continues collecting devotees. The reason is that  this new musical, is unique, and seasoned theatergoers noticed it, from its first scene.

The melody of its overture had a Hebrew-music sound, which indicates that it may be written  in the Phrygian Mode (which is the minor scale that appears when the Major scale is started from the third note)  It is first heard as a clarinet solo (ASAF OPHIR) before being repeated by the violin (KYMBER GILlEN)  and later enhanced  with a bass (GUS KAMBEITZ, ANDREW LAWRENCE, JAMES KING) the  keyboard (TOM TOMASELLO) and the percussion. (AHARON WHEELS BOlSTA) and orchestrated into a rich sound.

On the back of the stage, standing motionless one after another in a single row inside a large golden frame that simulates to be framing a photograph, we see seven people, Two women and five men.  We learn later on that they were the  “WARSAW GANG.” a group of theatre/movie actors who performed in Poland during the years  l935-l946,  As we continue staring at them, they begin to move, and singing  “Bread and Theatre”  as a choir,  start descending on the stage.

Front row L-R Bryan Watson and Jim Amler. Second row Stephen Guggenheim, Susan Gunaunas and Drista Wigle and back row James Raasch and John Minagro.
Front row L-R Bryan Watson and Jim Amler. Second row Stephen Guggenheim, Susan Gunaunas and Drista Wigle and back row James Raasch and John Minagro

For the next two hours, in a combination of  short dialogues and songs, Bubbie/Raisel (SUSAN GUNDUNAS) becomes Raisel young and old and acts and tells the audience the story of a great sacrifice and a great love.

She is joined by the group of  actors: Moishe Rosenwald/Marvin (STEPHEN GUGGENHEIM) Caim Bradovsky/Dr. Goldblum/Jerzy F. (JAMES RAASCH) Chayesel Fisher/Charlotte/Dobrisch (KRISTA WIGGLE) Avrom Krinsky/Kopelman (JIM AMBLER) Yossie Pinsker/Persky (BRIAN WATSON) Doovie Felman/Dave (JOHN MINAGRO) and Red Martin (JULIA WADE) who tell the audience their inter-related stories, which include happy and sad moments,  separations and  reunions,  performances, and the friendship which  helped  “THE WARSAW GANG”  survive, with honor, the vicissitudes of the Nazis’ invasion  in Poland, in which they lost their films their costumes and their theatre, but never their sense of humor.

At the end, during the Nazi invasion; forced to wear a white band of cloth around their arms with a six pointed star to identify themselves as Jewish, and before abandoning their houses, many, on their way to the concentration camps, we see the members of the WARSAW GANG  “saving their heritage” by filling empty metal milk containers with  small items they used around the house,  a book they read, sheets of paper containing written music, or poems, newspaper clips and facts, and reams of the  jokes they told each other. All the actors survived because, as part of their Yiddish  culture they were able to discover that there was“something that was funny” Even during the worse of times.

Produced by ALLEN & KAREN GUGGENHEIM,  Directed by SCOTT EVAN GUGGENHEIM, with book and lyrics by IRIS RAINER DART, music by MIKE STOlLER & ARTIE BUTLER, and directed musically by STEPHEN GUGGENHEIM, ‘THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE”  can only be described as “Unique”

One of the reasons is its musical numbers. Most of the Melodies are lively, but  others are more“serious”  in nature.  Yet all  of them have well written poetic lyrics, The one we remember among them, however, is   “Remember who you are.” In which the group of actors  warn  Chaim (RAASCH) who is leaving Poland to go to Hollywood, California, not to let the Hllywood studios “destroy” his (Jewish) identity by “Americanizing”  his name, as they did to Izzie Beilin (IRVIN BERLIN) and Jacob Gershowitz (GEORGE GERSHIN).


As for the acting, The performances of every actor in the play are “real.”  Starting with , GUNDUNAS, who as Bubbin/Raisel had to  master her dual role changes from younger  woman (during the 30’s and 40’s) to an now older lady, on the verge of Alzheimer’s  in the present time.

Another well acted role was the role of WADE, who as Red,  her  daughter had to let the audience "feel" her anguish, because she unable to decide whether to keep her mother in her home with her and her daughter or place her in a Rest Home,

And well portrayed also was the role of the talented youn girl (SCHROEDER) who as Jenny, (Raisel’s granddaughter) learns from the pictures hanging on her house the “well kept  family secret of her family.

As for the roles of the "Actors" every one of them, was well acted, well sang with powerful voices, and represented, true to reality.

It is a well-made musical. Perhaps, the only change it needs would be showing the  scenes in the past (those things that happened in Poland during the years (1935-l946) with different lighting color than the scenes of the present time(1977) since it is difficult for the audience to detect the past from the present at times. And as far as structure, this musical is Unique.

THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE will be presented at the 3BELOW THEATERS & LOUNGE from Thursday, May 10 to Sunday, May 13. For tickets calls (408) 404-7711.