Comings Back

It's homecoming week for two St. Louis-born theater luminaries

But New Dramatists, a writers' organization just three doors east of The Actors Studio, was. "Cheryl got me started and New Dramatists sustained me," Holtzman says. During the past decade his plays have been produced in regional theaters around the nation. In the late 1990s, Hearts, a dramatized rendering of his father's military service during the final year of World War II, began to gestate. "Once I conned my dad into giving me permission to write the story," Holtzman says, "we had an active correspondence by e-mail. A lot of memories began to flood back into his mind. They had been lost because of the nature of the trauma. I began to ask myself: What have I opened up here? But my father is a tough guy. He said, 'No, no, this is all necessary.' When I wrote the scene about his electroshock therapy, again I thought, I can't do this. But he assured me, 'It has to be in the play.'"

Even more daunting was to try to capture his father's participation in the liberation of the concentration camp at Buchenwald: "Of all the risky things I went for, that was the riskiest, because his first impulse was to blame the victims. I've never seen that attitude dramatized. But I had to be honest, because it's part of the legacy of guilt and trauma that he took forward from that experience.

"To describe World War II as 'the good war,' as Studs Terkel did, or to praise those young soldiers as 'the greatest generation,' doesn't change things one bit. There is nothing sentimental about my father's experience of living with post-traumatic stress and not having any idea of what it was. If I had found myself sentimentalizing this story, I would have put the play aside."

Ripped from the headlines: Doug Storm helps Bat 
Boy mutate!
Jennifer Silverberg
Ripped from the headlines: Doug Storm helps Bat Boy mutate!
Home is where Hearts is: Willy Holtzman 
returns to St. Louis.
Home is where Hearts is: Willy Holtzman returns to St. Louis.


Bat Boy-Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming; music by Laurence O'Keefe. Produced by Fontbonne University through December 12 at the Fine Arts Center theater, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Call 314-889-1425.

Hearts- By Willy Holtzman. Produced by the New Jewish Theatre through December 19 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur. Call 314-442-3283.

When an early draft received the Arthur Miller Award for Dramatic Writing, Miller attended a staged reading at the University of Michigan. "He was great," Holtzman says. "He didn't get into detailed notes. He told me what was right, what was working. Then he said, 'You're ten minutes too long.' I said, 'Where?' He said, 'That's for you to figure out.'"

Now the play is receiving productions around the country. But this week's staging -- which Holtzman will attend with his father and mother and brother and sister -- is special. "This is homecoming," Holtzman says. "From the moment I started work on this play, all I ever wanted was for Hearts to be done in St. Louis. So now I get my wish."

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