Expats Theatre Presents Pankrác ’45
Credit: Marvin Bowser

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Expats Theatre Presents Pankrác ’45

As the audience settles into their seats, a film loop is projected onto a shelving unit filled with cardboard boxes. It is a collage of documentary footage of German troops in Prague, a speech by former Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš (who led the Czechoslovak government-in-exile from 1939 to 1945), and a dramatization of the assassination of Reich Protector (aka a senior Nazi administrator) Reinhard Heydrich by the Czech Resistance, and German revenge liquidation of the towns of Lidice and Ležáky. The minimalist set design and projections (both by Johnny Dahm Robertson) are an ingenious framing device for Expats Theatre’s timely production of Czech playwright Martina Kinská’s Pankrác ’45. The drama, about the persistence of authoritarianism after its overthrow, is codirected by Melissa B. Robinson and Karin Rosnizeck and translated by Barbara Day. The title refers to the prison where the play is set—where suspected war criminals and collaborators await trial after the liberation of Czechoslovakia following the end of World War II. Five women, accused of collaborating with Nazis, share a prison cell. While their meeting is a product of Kinská’s imagination, four of them are based on real women: Hana Krupková (Sara Barker), a member of the cell that killed Heydrich who’s now suspected of betraying her comrades; Lída Baarová (Stacy Whittle) and Adina Mandlová (Rosnizeck), actors who worked in the German film industry (Baarová had a two-year affair with Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels); and Julie (Lisa Hodsoll), a Jew who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau as a “kapo”—a prisoner assigned to supervise other prisoners. Joining them is “Nová” (Aniko Olah) who refuses to speak. In the courtyard outside their window, the guilty are hanged (the play is not without gallows humor). Is the same fate in store for these five women? Will they be exonerated? Or will the choices they made to survive under Nazism leave them compromised after the Communist Coup of 1948? Expats Theatre’s Pankrác ’45 runs to Nov. 21 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. expatstheatre.com. $20-$35.