REVIEW: Number of People (Piven Theatre Workshop)

Beck is #1 in this one man show


Piven Theatre Workshop presents:


Number of People

Written and directed by Emilie Beck
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston
Thru April 11th (more info)


By Katy Walsh

8, 11, 6, Leo Gold is a numbers guy. His wife is an eight. His daughter is eleven. And his concentration camp bunkmate is a six. Piven Theatre Workshop presents Number of People, a Holocaust survivor’s recollection of moments of his life. Leo Gold lived through the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. Now, he is enduring the death of his wife and the onset of Alzheimer’s. In the past, a fixation on numbers has given him sequential order. From the muddled recesses of his mind, numerical disarray leads to total recall. Humans exterminating a segment of the population is unimaginable, undeniable, and unforgivable. How is it survivable? As a statistician, Leo counts on numbers, ‘a 1 is always a 1.’ Number of People is an ordinary man’s jumbled memoirs of his extraordinary life story.

Bernard Beck plays Leo Gold as an average Joe. He is a grumpy old guy waiting on his daughter to pick him up. Mr. Beck is understated and un-heroic in his portrayal of Leo Gold, maintaining that Leo Gold as a ‘regular corny joke telling’ nobody. It’s this established foundation that springboards to poignant discourse as Leo’s slipping self-containment is pried open. He relives amazingly horrific episodes of inhumanity.  There is a true sense from Mr. Beck’s performance that these stories are only being recounted because of the Alzheimer’s. Leo Gold is no longer able to focus on the numbers for a reality escape. His infliction forces nightmarish reminiscence; he’s particularly unforgettable in a moving scene with rainwater and numbers on a painting.

Emilie Beck is the tri-fecta of success as the playwright, director and daughter of Mr. Beck. As the playwright, she has brilliantly pieced together stories to chronicle Leo Gold’s life. She highlights his ordinary and sometimes disconnected relationship with his wife. Ms. Beck showcases Leo’s confusion and detachment with descriptive passages. Whether it is a matter-of-fact description of a hundred hanged Jews or delightful musings over drinking beer at lunchtime, she gives Leo’s imagery equal importance. It is powerful glimpses of one man’s startling existence.

Number of People uses a minimal set with a surprising utilization of books. There is a room behind a room which works to establish Leo’s confused state of mind. Although music transitions his stories back to his number fascination, the song choices and cues seem simplistic and forced. It’s the only integer that doesn’t quite add up in a tightly constructed ninety minute oration of the unexpected depth of experience suppressed behind a man’s numerical defense mechanism.


Rating: ★★★


Running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission



Noyes Cultural Arts Center

3 WORDS: Always a true 14 to me, Bill describes the show as “powerful, strong performances.”


Leaving the Lakeview neighborhood circa 6pm, we are focused on numbers. 90 minutes to curtain! We breeze up Lake Shore Drive in a respectable 25 minute commute. We dine at Lulu’s, 804 Davis Street, in Evanston. Lulu’s is your basic Japanese- Thai- Chinese restaurant. It’s a café that operates like a fast food joint. We order 3 small plates and 2 glasses of wine. Everything arrives within 7 minutes. Sipping, eating and enjoying Lulu’s, we depart in satisfaction after 43 minutes. The theatre is 6 minutes away from the restaurant. We arrive at the Piven Theatre Workshop with 16 minutes to spare. Sometimes, the numbers just add up perfectly!




Artist’s Bios

Emilie Beck (playwright, director) In 2008 Emilie directed the Jeff Award winning, Because They Have No Words by Tim Maddock and Lotti Louise Pharriss at the Piven Theatre in Chicago. She developed the script with the playwrights, and directed the world premiere at the Lounge Theatre in Los Angeles. The production won a Jeff Award for Best Sound Design and was nominated for: a Jeff Award for Best Ensemble; Ovation Awards for Best Ensemble and Best World Premiere Play; LA Weekly Award for Best Ensemble; and Garland Awards for Best Director and Best Ensemble.  As a playwright Emilie’s script, Number of People, was presented at the Hartford Stage’s Brand: NEW Festival (2007), with Edward Asner in the role of Leo Gold.  The play was previously developed as part of Pasadena Playhouse’s Hothouse Series (2006) and Piven Theatre’s New Works Festival (2006), and has been given staged readings for benefits at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, University Synagogue in Irvine (both performed by Mr. Asner), and the Hartford Foundation Conference on Aging. In 2003 Emilie wrote and directed And Let the Skies Fall at the El Portal Circle Theatre in an acclaimed Los Angeles premiere (Critic’s Pick in Backstage West; Nominated for six Garland Awards, including Best Playwriting and Best Director). Emilie directed a workshop of Diane Rodriguez’ Under Her Wings at Calarts, with Liz Torres in the leading role, and a workshop production of Samantha Bennett’s Kiss the Monster. In the fall of 2008 Emilie co-directed and produced the Ovation Awards ceremony. She will direct Block Nine by Tom Stanczyk at the Elephant Theatre in LA in the summer of 2009.  She currently lives in Los Angeles and is at work on her new play: Invasion of a Sovereign Body.

Bernard Beck (Leo Gold) is a Resident Ensemble Member at Piven Theatre Workshop and also attended classes himself.  He appeared in the first Piven production, Chekhov: Some Family Portraits, and over 30 years later in What Dreams May Come.  He began his Chicago acting life in Paul Sills’ pioneering Story Theater and has been seen on stage at Piven (in countless shows including Three Sisters, King Lear, Mad Forest, The Mad Dancers, Piven alum Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, and many story theatre presentations of the works of Chekhov, I.B. Singer, Malamud,  and Faulkner), the Organic (Bleacher Bums, Jonathan Wild and ER: Emergency Room), Victory Gardens, Wisdom Bridge (Awake and Sing! and Only Kidding!), St. Nicholas (James Lapine’s Table Settings under the direction of the playwright), Practical, Drury Lane South (The Odd Couple), Northwestern University Theatre (Lydie Breeze), and in Jewish-themed works at National Jewish Theatre (The Dybbuk, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Bitter Friends, among others) and Chicago Jewish Theatre (Today I Am a Fountain Pen).  Beck has appeared in more of Piven alum Alan Gross’s plays than any other actor, including The Phone Room, The Man in 605 and La Brea Tarpits.  Last season he was featured at the Silk Road Theatre Project in Motti Lerner’s controversial prize-winning Israeli play Pangs of the Messiah.  He is known to generations of Chicago Jewish children as Hershel in the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble’s classic production of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.  Beck, and his wife, Sherry were on the victorious Jonah team in the first Chicago Improv Olympics competition. Beck also appeared as Al Capone’s lawyer in the TV series The Untouchables.  His children, Emilie and Raphe, were Piven Theatre Workshop students who went on to great achievements in theater; last year, Emilie returned to the Piven Theatre to direct Because They Have No Words.

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  1. […] of People – Piven Theatre Workshop (review […]

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