Sotto Voce: when America turned away Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis

Annette Miller at Shakespeare & Co. Photo by Enrico Spada.

Annette Miller at Shakespeare & Co. Photo by Enrico Spada.

Shakespeare & Company opens its final summer show of the 39th Performance Season with Sotto Voce, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nilo Cruz, and directed by Daniel Gidron. This powerful, timely piece runs at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre August 18 through September 11, 2016 with Annette Miller in the lead role.

In 1939 the MS St. Louis set out in search of homes for the hundreds of Jewish refugees aboard, only to be turned away by Cuba and the United States. Decades later, a young Cuban-Jewish man named Saquiel seeks out Bemadette Kahn, a famous, reclusive writer who was separated from her Jewish lover when he boarded the MS St. Louis all those years ago. The result is three seemingly disconnected souls brought together in a fantastical relationship fueled by the power of memories.

“The tragedy of the rejection of refugees fleeing persecution and extermination has echoes and reverberations with today’s plight of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa,” says Director Gidron. “When borders close, when presidential candidates vie with one another about building walls along borders, deporting millions of immigrants, and keeping Muslims out of the country, we realize that unfortunately history can repeat itself. Sotto Voce is a testament to the positive human ability to endure pain and joy. To connect even when separated physically, to love regardless of age and cultural differences.”

532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.” – Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Gidron’s production of Sotto Voce features acclaimed Company member Annette Miller, along with newcomers Jaime Carrillo and Evelyn Howe making their Shakespeare & Company debuts. The creative team includes Deborah A. Brothers (Costume Design), John McDermott (Set Design), Robyn Warfield (Lighting Design), Brad Berridge (Sound Design), and Fran Rubenstein (Stage Manager).

“I believe art has the potential to help us transform the world,” says Miller. “Art creates space for empathy and understanding.The characters speak softly in Sotto Voce but the message of the play is loud and clear. History repeats itself. In 2016 we are on the verge of repeating the ‘darkest chapter in American history,’ turning away refugees and threatening to deport 12 million immigrants.”

Tickets for Sotto Voce are available online at, or by calling Shakespeare & Company at (413) 637-3353 during box office hours. The Bernstein Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible, including added enhancements this year. Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts.

2 thoughts on “Sotto Voce: when America turned away Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis

  1. I look forward to this production, but as their season winds down, I think it’s scary evident that once “superwoman” left – and I *am* among Ms Packer’s many admirers – things have come as close to going off the rails as makes no difference. The choice of shows this year looks like somebody wanted to give the fundraisers and/or Board an extra-big challenge. Almost every non-artistic aspect – food, grounds, staffing – looks like it’s being done on the cheap and it shows. This theater – not that WTF, BRF and BS aren’t each wonderful in its own say – is a national treasure. Sadly, it looks like it’s running on fumes, … and while a key hire or a re-vamp of Board and its role might be “all” it takes, it had better happen soon – it is/was great that S&Co. comes closer to a year-round operation than anybody else, but a robust schedule makes what looks like serious under- or mis-staffing even more pernicious.

    • A lovely production with the wonderful acting we almost (but should never) take for granted…. But – words lead to expectations and that can lead to disappointment or even non-attendance – this is NOT a “history play.” Rather, it is a kind of love story. But it’s sketched more than etched, so while there are many who love watercolors, others prefer the “strength” of oils. For some audience members, this WILL be a play to remember for years. Arguably, a perfect choice for the smallish theater and – roughly – S&Co’s “typical” attendee.

      I just noticed the 30 years of show photos on the wall. While the lead clearly is toward the end of her career, the other 2 members of the cast give one the highest hopes for many more years of exciting, diverse theater!

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