Norfolk Summer Play Fest brings taste of Old Norfolk with Jean Klein’s Refraction of Light

by | Jul 12, 2012 | What’s Happening

The second annual Norfolk Summer Play Festival showcases local talent, and at times, local history. Playwright Jean Klein’s Refraction of Light is about the Berkley neighborhood 1938 to 1978, where, according to Klein, Berkley was a mix of African American, Jewish, and Southern whites where race and ethnicity was never an issue. Instead, it was all about community.

Growing up in and working in a mental health clinic as the director of outpatient services in Berkley, Klein witnessed the widespread eviction of mental health patients and their challenge to transition into the community. One of her clients, a very strong African American woman whom she rescued in the middle of the night, is the prototype for the character of Nettie. Harry, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, is inspired by an actual incident in which a boat filled with Jewish refugees was turned away from New York and many other ports until Eleanor Roosevelt intervened.

The story revolves around the “character” of a stained glass window, which has meaning and memories for each character who lives and workes in the house as it transitions from being owned by a Southern White woman with her African American housekeeper and confidant, to a Jewish Holocaust survivor. The deep friendship of Southern White and African American are strained when the question of selling the house in an all white neighborhood arises. Although their children are raised together, old traditions are hard to overcome.

Klein, who jokes that her husband and his family could never remember she was a “Shiksa,” always felt great acceptance in the Jewish community and even learned to speak Yiddish.

A resident of Virginia Beach and an award-winning playwright, Klein is a founding member of Virginia Playwrights Forum and currently teaches in the MA/ MFA programs in Creative Writing at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.

The Details
Dates and Time
August 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12
Friday and Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 2:30 pm
The Venue on 35th 631 35th Street
469-0335 for reservations or

by Shari Graber