‘Bonhoeffer: Cell 92’ opens at EMU, slated for spring tour in Austria

Theater-goers in the Shenandoah Valley will get the first look this winter at an Eastern Mennonite University production that will embark on a European tour in 2022.

Bonhoeffer: Cell 92 depicts the life of German dissident and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and murdered for his opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime in World War II. He spent one and half years in prison before being hanged in April 1945, just weeks from the end of the war.

The play opens Friday, Jan. 21, for a two-week run in EMU’s Mainstage Theater and in March at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg.

Justin Poole portrays Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Bonhoeffer: Cell 92,” opening this week at EMU. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Performances at EMU are

  • Friday & Saturday, Jan. 21 and 22, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 23, 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m. 
  • Thursday, Jan. 27,  7 p.m. (International Holocaust Remembrance Day)
  • Friday & Saturday, Jan. 28 & 29, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 30, 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15/adults and EMU faculty/staff; $12/seniors (65+); $12/non-EMU students and children; and free for EMU and Bridgewater College students. Visit the EMU Box Office.

It is the second recent collaboration of EMU professors and co-creators Jerry Holsopple and Justin Poole. Their fall 2021 musical “U2 Romeo & Juliet,” combining music of the iconic Irish rock band with Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, earned accolades from audiences and recognition from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. 

The duo co-wrote the Bonhoeffer script and combined their expertise in cinema and theater.  

“Audiences will see multiple parallels between Bonhoeffer’s time and our own, as he examines the tensions between his pacifist and theological ideals and his moral obligation to protect the oppressed,” said Poole.

After months interacting with primary source materials, Holsopple said his appreciation grew for the Lutheran pastor: “He had no interest in being a martyr, he was just trying to figure out what it means to be faithful to Jesus and to his neighbor. What I came to value was his refusal to allow abstract theological questions to stop him from action.”

The sole live actor is Poole as Bonhoeffer. His character exists within three walls that act both as his prison cell and as cinematic screens that project flashbacks and imagery.

“Not only do the screens offer another dimension to this theater piece, but we used them to explore his friendships and romantic life,” said Holsopple. 

The play weaves eye-witness accounts, photos, and primary sources such as correspondence from the posthumous collection Letters and Papers from Prison. An original cello score composed and performed by Kimberly Souther, director of EMU’s Preparatory Music Program, is a haunting backdrop.

The large cast involved in filmed material includes local professional actors, EMU theater students and community members. Poole and Holsopple also draw from an accomplished group of local production artists: stage director Ingrid DeSanctis, EMU alumna and professor of theater at James Madison University; choreographer and dance teacher Ellie de Waal; designers Robert Weaver and Rachel Herrick and production assistants Ezrionna Prioleau, Hailey Holcomb and Jareya Harder.

After a run at Court Square Theater in March, the production will move to Austria. Poole and Holsopple are planning the Vienna-based performance schedule for May 2022 in conjunction with the Austro-American Institute. celebrating its 95th birthday celebration. The language study and study abroad program has strong connections to the U.S. Embassy.

Discussion on “‘Bonhoeffer: Cell 92’ opens at EMU, slated for spring tour in Austria

  1. This is so timely, as the U.S. appears to be in danger of descending into a dictatorship in the not-too-distant future. This production could serve as a catalyst for discussions, among people of faith, about how we would respond to such a development.

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