‘Remember This Trick’ explores antisemitism, complex history, and tales of Jewish survival at the Target Margin Theater

woman on stage in remember this trick
‘Remember This Trick,’ a new play at the Target Margin Theater, weaves together many different stories.
Photo courtesy of Justin J. Wee/Target Margin Theater

Describing “Remember This Trick,” a new play running at the Target Margin Theater in Sunset Park, isn’t easy even for David Herskovits, who conceptualized and directed the production. 

Target Margin’s website says the play is “no more or less than an artistically adventurous Purimshpil — the traditional Jewish retelling of the story of Esther.” 

The show is perhaps an exploration of many stories like Esther’s — of Jewish people facing antisemitism and persecution and living through it right up until the modern day. 

“The Esther story forms the spine of it, and gives a structure to the whole event, but other stories about antisemitism and about Jews surviving are kind of woven in and out of that,” he said. “The spirit of it is, let’s take a breath, and reflect on some of these stories, and share them in different ways.” 

people on stage in remember this trick
The story of Esther makes up the ‘spine’ of the complex play. Photo courtesy of Justin J. Wee/Target Margin Theater

For years, Herskovits said, he has watched antisemitic ideas and language grow in American culture – particularly during the Trump administration. Suddenly, he was hearing people openly express antisemitic sentiments they previously wouldn’t have dared voice.

Ordinarily, Herskovits — a prolific director and the founder of Target Margin — isn’t interested in creating work based on current events, he said. 

“I care about those things, but that’s not what theater is for, for me,” he said. “In this case, I felt like this was a meaningful way I could respond to this and try to enrich the conversation.” 

Rather than sitting down to write a play on his own, Herskovits invited a large group of collaborators – writers, actors, even the theater’s administrative workers and managers — to form “Remember This Trick” in a series of workshops.

The finished product comes in at just over an hour long, and weaves together personal anecdotes, stories of Jewish survival, conspiracy theories, and pieces of existing Jewish art and literature. 

With so many moving pieces, there’s one theme that runs strong through the entire production — the “trickster spirit” that exists in many stories of Jewish survival. 

One of the pillars of the show is the story of Werner Reich, an Auschwitz survivor who learned how to perform card tricks in the camp and kept his love of magic for the rest of his life. One of the writers also contributed a story about his father devising a sort of trick to protect himself from bullies, Herskovits said. 

actors in remember this trick
The director was inspired by the many ways Jewish people have survived seemingly impossible situations. Photo courtesy of Justin J. Wee/Target Margin Theater

“Having tricks up your sleeve that you could use to save yourself, to me, became an appealing way to frame what we were doing,” he said. “How do you get through in a place, or in a situation, that really is life-threatening. It turns out, in many of these stories, there are elements of Jews who find clever ways to work around apparently impossible situations.” 

“Remember This Trick” doesn’t have one defining message, and Herskovits doesn’t want all audience members to come out thinking or feeling the same thing. It will affect everyone differently, he said, and that’s what he wants. 

Creating the show prompted tears from many of the contributors, he said — not because of the subject matter, but because so many people felt “so agonized about many, many complicated things about what that means in America today.” 

Those complications stem, in part, from everything Jewish people have faced for generations in the U.S. and outside of it, he said, and the ways they have gotten through it. 

He pointed to his own family as an example. His father, a Holocaust survivor, escaped to the U.S. when he was ten years old, but the rest of his family was killed. Once in the U.S., he wasn’t able to get his citizenship for many years — and was “stateless” until that happened. 

But, Herskovits said, his father was “largely silent” about the Holocaust. Where some other survivors responded by refusing to purchase German-made vehicles, his family owned a Volkswagon. 

“There’s a lot of complicated and conflicted attitudes towards it,” he said. “There’s an enormous amount of pride, and also an enormous amount of suffering and shame, together, in some serious combination.” 

As issues of racial and social justice have evolved in recent years, they have “radicalized” the Jewish community in different ways, he said, in part based on their past histories and experiences.  Created by so many writers who hold those complicated, sometimes conflicting feelings and attitudes, “Remember This Trick” incorporates many points of view. 

person at remember this trick
Herskovits said he thinks audience members will have vastly different thoughts about and reactions to the show. Photo courtesy of Justin J. Wee/Target Margin Theater

Herskovits and Target Margin are upfront about the fact that while show at times overlaps with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ongoing war in Gaza, it doesn’t attempt to address it. After Oct. 7, Herskovits said he thought about scrapping the show altogether — but he felt it was meaningful and important, and didn’t want to throw it away. 

“It’s not that I’m afraid of addressing those issues,” he explained. “I think those issues surrounding the Middle East and the war in Gaza are enormous. It’s not what this play is about.”

So, he chose to be clear and upfront and honest with his collaborators, with audiences, and with himself about the fact that he was not trying to talk about the current or historical situation in Israel and Palestine, though he knows the show will be viewed in the context of current events.

“In a way, those questions are too urgent and complicated for me to address in a play,” he said. “If I wanted to do something about the situation in Gaza, I want to take action in a way that aren’t about me making a show.”

Remember This Trick” runs at the Target Margin Theater at 232 52nd St. in Sunset Park through March 17, 2024.