Some very big personal questions led Barry Levey to create his solo show Hoaxocaust!, about a man who questions the idea that some people might not believe the Holocaust really existed, which begins a three-week run on May 29 at Theater for the New City.
“The whole idea of the Holocaust, and how it affected my Jewish identity, always caused conflict with my non-Jewish boyfriend when we tried to discuss our individual experiences of discrimination,” says Levey. “I couldn’t shake the feeling the Holocaust was my trump card, even though it didn’t happen directly to me — never mind that he was articulating prejudices he faced himself, every day.”
It wasn’t just conversations with his boyfriend that sparked Levey’s feelings, either. “I also became frustrated that anytime I want to distance myself from the issue — whether I was discussing Israeli politics or not celebrating a Jewish holiday — that some people would say to me ‘but you’re not remembering the Holocaust.'”
As is often the case today, Levey quickly turned to the Internet. “I started with Google searches on the Holocaust and then I ended up reading a lot of books and articles on the subject of Holocaust denial,” he says.
“I quickly became fascinated with what came up. I discovered that there are politicians and other leaders all over the world who deny that it happened, but these articles never go into what they say happened instead. It’s amazing that anyone doesn’t challenge these people, although I think it may be because a lot of people don’t want to give deniers this pulpit. Soon, my research went a little deeper than the Internet.”
When Levey decided to turn what he learned into theatrical form, his initial idea was to create a large-scale play. “I originally had the idea to tell this story as a big epic piece — sort of an Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code kind of thing,” he says. “Then, in 2009, our director, Jeremy Gold Kronenberg, said he had a slot open for the “Dark Nights” series at the Prospect Theatre Company. But when I told him what I had in mind, he said, ‘that sounds fantastic, but can you do it as a one-man show?'”
Switching gears, Levey admits, was a challenge — although one that ultimately has proved rewarding. “It was my first one-man show, and that’s a tough form to crack,” he says. “The first draft was 100 pages and very professorial. It took a long time for me to find a way to make it dramatic and active. I feel terrible for my writing group, who had to listen to all these different drafts.”
He was also aware that the show couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be just something only Jewish people would relate to. “I’ve worked hard to make it feel universal. Of course, there are some things Jews will get more than others, but over the past few years, we’ve discovered that plenty of non-Jews find it entertaining and relevant. It does draw connections to discrimination of other orientations and ethnicities, since a lot of cultural groups have victimization as part of their story.”
The upcoming run is the show’s longest so far, and Levey is hoping that it won’t be its last. “I don’t know that Hoaxocaust! is ever going to have a commercial Broadway run, but there are plenty of places it could play well,” he says. “It’s only 70 minutes, and it can be done on a bare stage, or on a pre-existing set. I’d love to see it as a late-night offering after a show ends, or on a dark night for a running show.”