BWW Reviews: The New Jewish Theatre's Superb Production of HANNAH SENESH

BWW Reviews: The New Jewish Theatre's Superb Production of HANNAH SENESH

While most everyone is familiar with the tragic tale of Anne Frank and her family, fewer know the story of Hannah Senesh, although there have been books, movies and plays made about her extraordinary experiences. Hannah was a woman driven by her passion for life, and she was also a writer, having written both poems and plays, as well as a detailed journal. Playwright David Schecter (in collaboration with Lori Wilner) has done an exceptional job of turning these seemingly disparate elements into a thoroughly engaging work, and The New Jewish Theatre is currently presenting a very special production that demands your time and attention this holiday season.

A headstrong young girl from Hungary, Hannah Senesh had the guts to leave her homeland to work in a kibbutz in Palestine because of her Zionist faith. She toiled for several years, always missing her mother, and all the while aware that war was changing the face of the earth. She volunteers as a paratrooper in order to rescue her mother, but winds up being captured by the Nazis. Her fate was inevitable given her circumstance and strong beliefs.

Shanara Gabrielle is simply mesmerizing as Hannah, playing her from the period stretching from 1938-1944. We literally watch her flower into womanhood over the course of the play. She also plays her mother, Catherine, and manages to make her a fully realized characterization, complete with accent, as well. This play depends on Gabrielle being able to capture our attention for about 90 minutes and she handles her assignment with aplomb. This is one of the finest performances in recent memory. Jimmy Betts also makes a brief appearance as the guard who captures her.

Kat Singleton's direction is nicely handled. There aren't any static moments to be found, and part of that is due to our character's seemingly boundless energy. Peter and Margery Spack's scenic design does a good job creating a variety of locations with a minimal amount of set pieces. Combined with Seth Jackson's atmospheric lighting and some moody projected images (including some of Senesh's poetry), the overall effect is achieved quite well. Michele Friedman Siler's costumes are good character fits.

This isn't your typical lighthearted holiday fare, but sometimes a good jolt of human drama is just what we need as an audience in order to appreciate what we have in life. And, isn't that what the holidays are all about anyway?

The New Jewish Theatre's superb production of Hannah Senesh continues through December 22, 2013.

photo credit: John Lamb

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Chris Gibson Chris has been active in the local theatre scene for over 30 years. In addition to his acting work, he's also contributed as a director, writer and composer. Though, initially a film buff, he grew tired of the sanitized, PG-13 rated blockbusters that were being continually shoved down his throat by the studios. An opportunity to review theatre in St. Louis has grown exponentially with the sudden explosion of venues and talent in the region. He now finds himself obsessed with witnessing those precious, electric moments that can only happen live, on stage.

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