Aug. 2, 2023 By Ethan Marshall
Astoria residents Mara Jill Herman and Al Groppi are among the cast and crew set to take part in a series of performances for a play during the SheNYC Arts Festival on Aug. 2, 4, 5 and 6 at the Connelly Theater, located at 220 E 4th St. The play, “The Moss Maidens,” is inspired by a true story of teenage Dutch girls who lured Nazis into the woods during World War II before killing them.
“The Moss Maidens” is meant to evoke the beauty and sacredness of the woods and amplify feminist values and human rights. This play was one of eight original works selected among over 300 submissions for this year’s SheNYC Arts Festival.
Herman is a producer for the play, while Groppi is one of the stars of it. The production was created by playwright S. Dylan Zwickel.
Herman said she got involved in this play after being referred to it by a friend. Having already been familiar with Zwickel from acting in one of her productions at NYU’s graduate theater program, Herman was interested in producing it.
“The play is about World War II and the resistance to the Nazi Party,” Herman said. “In reality, the Dutch teenage girls were hired by a man to seduce and kill Nazis. In our play, the circumstances are fictionalized.”
Groppi said they got involved in this production after previously working with Zwickel in a previous show about five months ago. After taking part in a Zoom reading for “The Moss Maidens,” Zwickel asked Groppi to be part of the production.
Being able to have a show she has worked on featured as part of the SheNYC Arts Festival is an important achievement for Herman. It is the culmination of several years as an independent producer.
“It’s really exciting to be partnering with the SheNYC Festival because their mission is to uplift and shine a spotlight on marginalized genders including ciswomen, trans, and non-binary people. We don’t always get the chance to be in leadership roles,” Herman said. “To amplify this really important story by an incredible Jewish female playwright and to see how much of a demand there is for this play is so thrilling.”
The play has already proven to be very popular at the festival, with tickets selling out for the Aug. 2, 5 and 6 shows. There is still limited availability for the show on Aug. 4, with tickets available in-person at the Connelly Theater. The shows will also be available to be viewed digitally, with tickets for each date on sale for $5 and $10.
“[Selling out three shows] is intimidating, but also gratifying,” Groppi said. “I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who bought a ticket. It’s a lot of fun getting to see women and femme characters do things that are not typically female-coded on the stage. Like being silly, violent or angry.”
The Aug. 2 show is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The Aug. 4 show will start at 5:30 p.m. The Aug. 5 show is expected to start at 8:30 p.m. The Aug. 6 show will begin at 11:30 a.m.
There were initially two performances planned for “The Moss Maidens.” However, since the play proved to be a top seller for the festival, a third show was added. When the additional show also sold out, a fourth one was offered. According to Herman, this marked the first time in SheNYC’s eight-year history that a fourth show was offered for one of the featured plays.
“As a Jewish woman, I feel like I’m expected to tell stories of kids starving in camps or hiding in attics; that feels like the only story Jews are allowed to tell about World War II,” Zwickel said. “And I didn’t want to tell that story. I wanted to tell the story of people fighting back.”
With the United States experiencing a rise in antisemitism in recent years, Herman is hopeful that the large interest in this play reflects the large amount of people combating this issue.
Herman noted this production does not conflict with the current WGA or SAG-AFTRA strikes. She and those involved in the play made sure to check with their business reps before pursuing its creation. Production started once they were cleared.
“The Moss Maidens” was recently named as a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award. Additionally, it has earned an Honorable Mention from Parity Productions and been a finalist for the Jane Chambers Prize.
For more information on the SheNYC Arts Festival and its upcoming performances, visit shenycarts.org/she-nyc/.