In Nivelli's War,
the young, German Ernst is sent away by his mother to ensure his safety during WWII. At the end of the war, Ernst encounters Mr. H, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, who agrees to help the boy return home. Although their differences initially divide them, the two form a strong bond that changes the course of Ernst's life. We spoke to the director of this powerful story, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney.
Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney at work
How did you develop Nivelli's War?
Developing Nivelli's War
was all about the strong working relationship between the idea that I wanted, and Charlie Way's inspirational writing. Charlie's work is extremely dense and deep in terms of research and thoughtfulness. I got the script, and then I pulled on all my theatrical resources. Aesthetics, look, feel, all of that. Eventually, things came together, and I'm so proud of the result.
The character, Mr. H, is loosely inspired by Herbert Levin—Nivelli, or the "Magician of the Holocaust." Though you were not aware of it when you first began work on the show, a young man—Werner Reich—was held captive with Levin in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Levin taught him a number of magic tricks—just like Mr. H teaches Ernst. How did you find that connection to the story?
You're right, the Werner Reich connection came really late, long after the show had opened. In 2014 I discovered a book called The Death Camp Magicians
, which detailed the relationship between Werner and Herbert Levin. I wrote an email to the publishers of the book, letting them know that it was an incredibly illuminating read. Then out of the blue, I received a correspondence from Werner. I almost fell out of my chair! Hearing his story was profoundly inspiring.
Can you connect the show to current events?
Absolutely! You just have to look towards Syria, and you can see the connection to Nivelli's War
. Tragically, there are many Ernsts and Mr. Hs in the world right now—evacuees trying to piece together their world after suffering through unimaginable circumstances.
What has been the most inspiring audience reaction to your work?
There's a moment in the show where the audience physically starts to lean forward. The story is so inviting that it demands you lean forward and actively listen. For me, that's when I get really inspired. When I see a young audience member leaning forward—their eyes glued to the stage—that's my favorite moment.
Mr. H comforting Ernst with a trick
What moment in the show are you most excited for New York audiences to see?
With this show, the audience suddenly realizes that the events we're talking about didn't happen centuries ago. We're talking about a tragedy that people, like Werner, have lived through. Similar events are happening now. There are still children that find themselves in Ernst's shoes. I'm thrilled that New Yorkers are going to get to see those connections so, perhaps, they can empathize with people fighting through those circumstances today.
What's the one thing you want audiences to walk away from the show thinking?
I want them to walk away and think. My goal isn't to make them think about any single thing—it's just to make them think. Some of the best theatrical moments happen on the trip home, when families have a conversation, or when teachers start to work with kids to unpack what they've just seen. For me, it's about how a kid or an adult discovers a new layer to something, and what that means to them in that moment.
How did you find your start in theater?
I actually started out as a drummer. My band and I did three tours in the United States when I was only 17 or 18. Then, I was bit by the acting bug and performed on the stage for many years. When I was asked to write a piece for a festival back home in Northern Ireland, I fell into theater for young audiences. Eventually, I ended up writing a piece and to get funding for it, I needed to start a company—hence, Cahoots NI was born!
Do you have one tourist destination that you’ll be checking out while in New York City?
My son is very excited to see the Statue of Liberty, so on Saturday we're doing a tour! The Statue of Liberty was the first site many Irish immigrants saw on their way to Ellis Island. I’m very keen to explore that connection.
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