BWW Review: A SHAYNA MAIDEL at Playhouse On Park
When tragedy strikes it is often the relationships forged between those who survived that allows the victims to carry on. This shared experience bonds strangers and families alike. But what about those who were spared? Though family and friends not present may have avoided the worst, they, too, struggle with reconciling the impact to those they love and the guilt they feel having not been impacted directly. And all involved have to find a way to move on and live their lives. This prevailing emotion is at the center of Barbara Lebow's play, A SHAYNA MAIDEL which is now playing at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.
A SHAYNA MAIDEL tells the story of one such family who were on two sides of the world during the Holocaust of WWII. Mordechai Weiss (Mitch Greenberg) and his youngest daughter, Rayzel, now Rose Weiss (Laura Sudduth) came to America from Poland in the 1920's, leaving wife and mother (Krista Lucas) and eldest daughter Lusia (Katharina Schmidt) behind due to the young girl's scarlet fever. Attempts to reunite the family over the years were complicated by the depression and then the Nazis and the war. Fast forward to 1946 and Lusia, who was thought to have been murdered in a concentration camp is found and travels to New York to live with her Americanized sister, Rose. The sisters, from different worlds yet united by blood, forge a new relationship with each discovering things about themselves along the way while dealing with tragedy, guilt, and hope through two opposite lenses.
Barbara Lebow's script for A SHAYNA MAIDEL is fluid and quite accessible. She focuses on the relationships between the characters on stage and avoids oversaturating the play with the tragedy and horror that Lusia (and those she loved) experienced in the camps. This works most effectively because it causes the audience to fill in the blanks, often more vividly than any overt reference might. Director Dawn Loveland Navarro creates a warm and comfortable environment with a hard edge, the dichotomy of which draws the audience in while remaining cautious and alert for emotional nuance. The performances from the six actors are excellent, portraying the intimate and touching scenes as brilliantly as the emotional ones. To a person they each make you care about them from the beginning, which ensures that the two-and-a-half-hour play flies by. Ms. Schmidt captures the timid yet determined Lusia perfectly, and Ms. Sudduth the Americanized Rose with equal strength. The sisters' relationship is lovely to watch blossom on stage leading to an emotionally cathartic conclusion that one audience member noted caused her to cry "real tears".
From a creative perspective, David Lewis' scenic design is perfect with nice touches that firmly capture the 1940's New York aesthetic. Lisa Steier's costumes worked well and Marcus Abbot's lighting design was solid. Kirk Ruby's sound design, especially the choices for music (both ambient and transitional) added great effect to the scenes.
Playhouse on Park's A SHAYNA MAIDEL is a rare gem of a play, one that makes you smile, reflect, and yes, cry "real tears". It is a powerful story, told by an exceptional cast, and illustrates the human side of tragedy and how love (and family) can help heal even the worst wounds.
A SHAYNA MAIDEL runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through November 17th. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Photo credit: Meredith Longo
Top Photo: Katharina Schmidt and Laura Sudduth
Mid Photo 2: Katharina Schmidt and Julia Tolchin