Cappies Review: W.T. Woodson High School’s Letters to Sala

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Cappies Review: W.T. Woodson High School’s Letters to Sala

(Photo: W.T. Woodson High School)

(Photo: W.T. Woodson High School)

(Photo: W.T. Woodson High School)

(Photo: W.T. Woodson High School)

Jamie Jeong and Makayla Parker

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Review by Jamie Jeong

Two generations may think of the word camp differently while modern families imagine summer camps with friends and s mores, an older generation may recall memories of World War II and Nazi labor camps. Woodson High School’s theatre department powerfully uses this contrast to open their production of the play Letters to Sala, a story about a girl named Sala both during her time at labor camps, and during the present day as a grandmother.

Sala is a young Jewish girl who volunteers to go to a Nazi labor camp in place of her sister, expecting to be gone for six weeks only to be separated from her family for five years. Throughout her journey she meets many people, some who help her and some who attempt to take advantage of her, but all of whom write letters to her. Simultaneously on stage, an older Sala has given the letters she’s collected over the years to her daughter who wants to donate them to a library. This creates a conflict with the granddaughters, who don’t want to give the letters away as it is a relic of their family history.

The unique setup of the play, in which young Sala’s story plays out on one side as old Sala’s plays out on the other, surprisingly creates a cohesive show that flowed smoothly despite the frequent jumps between time periods. Moments in which young Sala and old Sala make eye contact or embrace each other were the most powerful, and could not have been possible without the specific arrangement of the show.

Performances were also powerful and brought the play to life, particularly the interactions between Elizabeth Vichness and Sara Willcox, who played young Sala and Ala. Despite the two actresses being the same age in real life, their performances as a young child and a grown adult respectively exemplified the range of talent in the cast. The dynamic between the two characters exuded strong chemistry and friendship, and was the highlight of the show. Memorable characters also include Sala’s love interests, played by Caleb Black, Jake Beland, and Johnny Hanford, who all provided comedic and wholesome relief in the dark undertones of the play.

Last but not least, the dance sequence of the play cannot be overlooked; it was beautifully choreographed with a blue screen behind silhouettes of dancing characters and falling letters. It served as an effective climax to the show that emphasized the theme and the letters that were the only means of communication between Sala and her friends and family.

Overall, Woodson High School did a praiseworthy job handling difficult content and unique setup that required a punctual and supportive tech team, strong emotional actors and actresses, and creativity and originality. Their contrast between modern and past time allowed the play to showcase a variety of talents in both performances onstage and the tech crew offstage. While there were times when the show faltered, one cannot help but appreciate the sensation that is Woodson’s Letters to Sala.

Review by Makayla Parker

In Arlene Hutton’s Letters to Sala, Sala was a young girl who volunteered to be sent to a concentration camp in place of her sister. Throughout her journey, she kept and hid letters written by her family and friends, documenting their sometimes brief appearances in her life and keeping their stories alive. She later showed these same dispatches to her daughter and granddaughters, causing an uproar in the family about the fate of the letters. 

Over five hundred letters were made by Abby Shichman, head of props. Not only this, but she also built a stockpile of period-specific clothing that represented the body count of the Holocaust. Eventually reaching a height of six feet, costume pieces specific to deceased characters were added to it throughout the play, including Ala’s hat and Chaim’s shoes. It is easy to see the hard work.

One other technical aspect that really stood out falls in the directing category, headed by Sarah Hasson. In one particularly emotional scene, the guards lined up the girls in the camp and selected one to die. This doomed girl was randomly selected each night, ensuring that none of the actresses knew who would be exiting the scene prematurely, similar to the Holocaust. Overall, this was a very inventive and unique idea; something that you don’t often see in high school productions.

Throughout this review, I have been complimenting the technical team, because they largely carried the show with the help of a few actors, specifically Hannah Black, Elizabeth Vichness, and Sara Willcox. So it comes as no surprise that the technical team wrapped up the play so astonishingly. The show ended with a projected powerpoint discussing the real-life characters’ fates after their imprisonment as well as when and how the deceased characters died. It was a very solemn and respectful way to celebrate and honor the lives of the resilient personalities presented in this play, reminding us all to mourn those who died for their faith.