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The Suburbanite
  • Jackson boys take on dramatic roles in ‘Pajamas’

  • In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” being performed this weekend, Matthew Taylor, 11, is playing Shmuel, a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz. Zachary Charlick, 10, is Bruno, son of the Nazi commandant who runs the camp.

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  • As fate would have it, the boys playing pivotal roles in a concentration camp drama at the Magical Theatre Company are both students at Strausser Elementary School in Jackson Township.
     In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” being performed this weekend, Matthew Taylor, 11, is playing Shmuel, a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz. Zachary Charlick, 10, is Bruno, son of the Nazi commandant who runs the camp.
     The boys become unlikely friends after Bruno is out exploring freely one day and sees a small boy on the other side of the barbed-wire fence around the camp dressed in what appear to be pajamas.
     “Shmuel is a Jewish boy living in a concentration camp. He’s very sad, but when Bruno comes to see him every day, he feels like he has a friend.” Taylor said of his role.
     “I play an ignorant 8-year-old who does not know what is happening to him. All he really thinks about is himself,” Charlick said. “When Shmuel says he is hurt, I ask, ‘Was it your bicycle?’ ”
    CASTING THE BOYS
     Dennis O’Connell, co-producing director of the Magical Theatre, previously worked with Taylor in last season’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which he played Dill.
     “Matthew did wonderfully (in ‘Mockingbird’), so when we knew we were doing this show, he was definitely in the front of my mind for the character of Shmuel,” O’Connell said. “Physically, Matthew is small-boned. That caught my eye, and there’s a contemplative quality about him that I knew would be good for this show. He’s a boy who thinks.”
     Told that he had to get his hair buzzcut for the role, Taylor, ”didn’t hesitate a second,” the director said.   
     It was Matthew’s mother Julie Taylor who suggested that Charlick, an actor friend of her son, be considered for the role of Bruno.
    “I thought he would fit the part well,” O’Connell said. “He’s got a lot of responsibility.”
     The character of Bruno, O’Connell said, “is amazingly naive, even for an 8-year-old. His parents keep him that way. When he comes upon Shmuel in his prison uniform, he really thinks he’s wearing striped pajamas. He refers to Auschwitz as ‘out with,’ and Hitler as ‘the fury’ instead of ‘the Fuhrer.’”
    AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY
     The play’s storyline has special resonance for Charlick.
    “I knew a lot about (Nazi Germany) because some of my relatives were in the same concentration camp,” he said. “Some people don’t even know this happened, or they know and they don’t even believe it happened.”
     As the 75-minute, intermissionless play unfolds, Bruno betrays his new friend, Bruno’s mother is dismayed by what she learns about her husband, and tragedy occurs.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It’s a really sad and moving play,” Charlick said.
     O’Connell said the play is recommended for ages 12 and older, but that somewhat younger kids might appreciate it provided they had some advance knowledge about Nazi Germany and concentration camps.
     “One of the things that we’ve tried to do is make sure that (Bruno’s) father is not looked at as just a monster,” O’Connell said. “He is a loving father and he has done good things for his maid and his wife’s family. We want to show how a good man can get swept up in this kind of thing.”
     Taylor has enjoyed returning to the Magical Theatre Company, a paid, professional theater.
    “I like working up there, it’s really fun,” he said, “Dennis, our director, teaches me a lot of things about dialect and acting and lines.”
    BUSY YOUNG ACTORS
     An unusually well-experienced actor for age 11, Taylor has appeared as Randy in “A Christmas Story” at the Cleveland Play House, as Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol” at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, and as Young Scrooge at the Players Guild of Canton, along with other roles in Cleveland and locally.
     “The first couple of times it’s scary, but you get the hang of it and it becomes a normal thing,” Taylor said about performing. “I like being different people and getting into character and performing for people. It’s really fun to share with an audience what I can do.”
     Charlick’s acting credits include two seasons as Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol” at the Players Guild, and the title role in “Oliver!” with the Carnation City Players in Alliance.
     “I really love acting, performing, rehearsing,” he said. “I really like it all.”
     An added bonus for the boys about “Striped Pajamas” is that they are getting to miss nearly a week of school, to appear in nine student matinees, with full permission of Strausser school.