Rabbi Norman Patz, the rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, and his wife, Naomi, have co-produced the film “The Last Cyclist.” It will be broadcast on WNET Thirteen’s “Theater Close-Up” on August 16 at 9:30 pm, and again on August 21 at 11 pm. The film, which was directed by Edward Einhorn, is the performance of a rediscovered dark comedy originally written and rehearsed in 1944 in the Nazi concentration camp Terezín. “The Last Cyclist” premiered in February 2020 at the Mene Tekel Film Festival in Prague and won awards at the Chain NYC Festival and the Melech Film Festival in Israel.
The original script to “The Last Cyclist,” by the 27-year-old playwright Karel Švenk, was lost during the Holocaust when Švenk was sent to his death. But it was not forgotten; it acquired mythic status among survivors despite having been banned following its dress rehearsal.
Naomi Patz learned of its powerful impact on Terezin camp inmates and was deeply moved. She reconstructed and reimagined the bitter satire based on everything she could find about it, especially by the cast’s sole survivor. She reconstituted the satire of Nazism in which bicyclists are blamed for all of society’s ills, and added its message of defiance in the face of prejudice and bullying to speak implicitly to society today.
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Staged in front of an audience for film capture at La MaMa in 2017, the critically acclaimed immersive production – which treats the audience as if they are watching the play’s dress rehearsal with their fellow Terezín Ghetto inmates – is a new addition to the historical record of Nazi atrocities, as well as a fascinating artifact of Jewish resilience and resistance to murderous racial intolerance.
In “The Last Cyclist,” a group of concentration camp inmates rehearse an absurdist comedy about escapees from an insane asylum who hate their bike-riding physician and target all bicycle riders, on whom they place the blame for the world’s misfortunes. A schlemiel of a hero who buys a bike to impress his girlfriend becomes the lunatics’ prime enemy. The leader of the escapees and her followers exploit the growing anti-cyclist hysteria they have fomented and plot to eliminate all cyclists by sending them to Horror Island where they will be not-so-slowly starved to death.
The play’s incidental music and the film’s score are composed by the award-winning composer Stephen Feigenbaum, whose work was commissioned through the Terezín Music Foundation. Feigenbaum adapted Švenk’s stirring Terezín March, which became the unofficial anthem of the prisoners interned in the camp. (The adapted lyrics are by Naomi Patz.) The artist Mark Podwal created the inspired art for the opening credits.
For more information, go to www.thelastcyclist.com