New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

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 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 and Ernst 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. 
Nivelli's War Experience Nivelli's War with your whole family. Tickets are on sale today!
Posted by Beth Henderson

Contributed by Auriane Desombre, Spring 2017 Communications Apprentice

As Nivelli's War begins its New Victory run, we're really looking forward to sharing the story of Ernst and Mr. H with our New York City audiences.  In the play, the mysterious Mr. H, a concentration camp survivor, escorts Ernst, a young German evacuee, back to the boy's hometown. Their journey and the friendship they forge make for a compelling story that stays with you. We asked a few of our staff members why this show is not to be missed.

Lauren Hood, our Artistic Programming Manager, was deeply affected by the cross-cultural friendship that develops between Ernst and Mr. H. The unlikely story of a young German boy befriending a Jewish man, Nivelli's War explores the complicated idea of forgiveness and trust in a dangerous world. "Especially in times when things are very uncertain, in times of great sorrow and tragedy, we can still find one another," she says. 


New Vic Staff Allison Mui Mitchell and Christopher Ritz-Totten
"They cut through all those layers of fear and hate and still form a friendship," agrees Education Programs Manager Christopher Ritz-Totten. "I think that's very inspiring."

Mr. H is based on a real-life magician, named Herbert Levin—or "The Great Nivelli"—who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau by performing magic for Nazi soldiers.  Known as the "Magician of the Holocaust," his talent for entertaining is likely the thing that saved his life. Realizing this, he did his best to teach what he knew to others, in hopes that they too, might be spared.

The different meanings of the word "magic" captured the imagination of Allison Mui, Director of Public Relations. "You can think about magic in a couple of different ways. There's the actual art form, the practice of magic," she says. "But there's also the magic of meeting people unlike yourself, and finding a common connection. Nivelli’s War celebrates this magic of friendship—believing in each other and holding each other up."

The magic of Nivelli's War stuck with Christopher even after the final curtain fell. "It's about finding joy in the darkest times in our lives. Magic, intrinsically, is joy."

While the action of the final days of the war largely remains offstage, it haunts Ernst and Mr. H throughout their journey together. "It's a great introduction to the history of the time," Lauren says. "Because the show doesn't tell you outright all the details of the war, leaves you with questions that can be great conversation starters for you and your kids."


New Vic Staff Kevin Bradley Jr. and Lauren Hood
Public Relations Associate Kevin Bradley agrees that the show offers families a perfect foundation to start important conversations about history. "I love to leave the theater inspired to dig into the story. When you see Nivelli's War, you definitely leave with a desire to learn more about WWII," he says. "It's a show that will spark an important conversation."

Though Nivelli's War takes place after the war has ended, the journey that Ernst and Mr. H take is fraught with danger. The obstacles facing the pair may seem insurmountable, but, as Lauren says, they "help each other and lift each other up throughout their journey, as they try and find their way home."

"It's a play about two human beings who are lost," says Christopher. "A story about perseverance, love, friendship and going home." Join us to find out how Ernst and Mr. H's journey unfolds.
Nivelli's War Bring your family, and experience the magic of friendship with Nivelli's War. Tickets are on sale today!
New Victory Thumb Auriane Desombre studies English at NYU, where she's wrapping up her senior year with an honors thesis. Outside of her classes, she reviews theater for Stagebuddy, and has written for Cracked and Urbanette. Her favorite writing collaboration thus far, though, would be the time Lin-Manuel Miranda replied to one of her tweets.
Posted by Beth Henderson
Tags: 2016-17, Staff
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