Bryan High School Performs the Play, November, 2016
Bryan Texas High School drama class performed The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg by Nina Serrano, Paul Richards, and Judith Binder, forty years after it was written and performed in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now revised and adapted by director Jacob Justice, the new production went on stage November 8, 10, 12, and 14, 2016. Jacob Justice, the Byron, Texas, high school teacher, rediscovered the drama on our website, and produced it with his students. He made excellent revisions to the script substituting new characters for the narrator, and giving the story new life.
Students in Jacob’s drama class rehearsed the play and studied the events and characters for 5 weeks leading up to the performances in their history classes.
When Nina Serrano walked into the school’s theatre department during her visit to Bryan, TX in 2016, the actors, in make up and costume, tech crew, and some parents, burst into applause. She applauded back. It was a love-fest. The students were so excited to meet the playwright as they were about to perform the play and she was thrilled meeting the young artists who were bringing the play to life again. Then when the house lights came down, stage lights up and music and sound filled the room she was moved by the familiar sound of her brother Philip Serrano’s Rosenberg theme music. The actors began and from the first moment she could breathe freely. They were so good, so real, and so committed to the truth of their characters.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in Bryan Texas
Jacob added innovative features that enhanced the dramatic action by highlighting the political persecution prevalent during the 1950s. Newspaper sellers ran in shouting out the headlines of the day. Surprisingly, through the use of lighting effects, the back wall of the courtroom suddenly became the judge’s bench with the judge appearing above it. Below it we could see and hear a radio announcer’s commentary through a scrim that turned translucent when back lit. Sometimes the Ethel and Julius characters would appear and read their heart wrenching letters. Sometimes we would see them respond to their own prerecorded words mixed with music. Other times, after one of Julius or Ethel’s readings or David and Ruth Greenglass’ scenes, the actors dropped their roles, looked at the audience and filled us in on the historical background with the narrators lines from the original production.
About the Play
The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg is a play written in 1976 by Nina Serrano, Paul Richards and Judith Binder, with original music by Philip Serrano. The Rosenbergs were an American Jewish leftist couple caught up in the famous “Atomic spies case” of the 1950’s. They were accused by the government of stealing atomic secrets and giving them to the hated enemy, the former Soviet Union. Even though, as we all know today, there were no atomic secrets, the Rosenbergs died in the electric chair leaving behind two small boys in 1953. The play tells the Rosenberg’s story from the transcript of their trial and from their letters. It was performed on college campuses, on KQED television and KPFA radio and at La Peña Cultural Center in the late 1970’s. Nina Serrano played Ethel Rosenberg, Paul Richards played David Greenglass and Judith Binder directed and narrated the play.
A Tragic Play in the Tradition of Euripides
The Rosenbergs had to die for the sake of the American empire’s war to destroy its socialist rival, the Soviet Union. Ethel and Julius were sacrificed to the anti-communist gods in the same way the Iphigenia, in Euripides’ tragic play, was sacrificed to the ancient gods for the sake of the Greek state on its way to the legendary Trojan War. Only the Rosenbergs, unlike the Iphigenia, did not go quietly. They protested the injustice and proclaimed their innocence to the very end. The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg is available as a book that includes both the original script and Jacob Justice’s revised version.
Why offer it again after all these years?
It has become shockingly clear that their story is more relevant than ever. Bradley (Chelsea) Manning is being punished after blowing the whistle on crimes being committed by the government. Julian Assange faces the draconian attempt by the U.S. to extradite him to the U.S. to face sedition and treason allegations. The same lies and techniques used to kill the Rosenbergs are still operating in plain sight. The fight for truth and transparency in government today cannot ignore the lessons of the past. The Rosenberg’s legacy, told in their own words, needs to be heard today if we are going to move forward towards a more democratic world. Click here to go to the script now available as a book . For more information and photos of the original cast, see Nina Serrano’s blog post.