Home > Arts and Entertainment > IF YOU SEE ONLY ONE PLAY EVER AT THE INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATER, MAKE IT “A SHAYNA MAIDEL”

IF YOU SEE ONLY ONE PLAY EVER AT THE INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATER, MAKE IT “A SHAYNA MAIDEL”

 

AT THE ICT THROUGH JULY 3

BY GREGGORY MOORE

I haven’t particularly enjoyed the plays put on by the International City Theatre (ICT). Some of this is simply script selection—whoever is doing the choosing has very different taste than I—and some of it is a sense of what makes for effective theatre that is different than mine.

But I’m happy to say that the ICT’s production of A Shayna Maidel is unlike any show I’ve seen there. Barbara Lebow’s script deftly displays both emotional depth and architectural tightness, while director Shashin Desai and cast rarely miss capitalizing on either.

A Shayna Maidel (Yiddish for “pretty girl”—not an inspired title for this play) centers on the 1946 reunion of sisters Lusia (Liza de Weerd) and Rose (Laura Howard). The two had not communicated since their father, Mordechai (Larry Eisenberg), emigrated to New York City with Rose 17 years earlier, leaving Lusia in Poland with their mama (Julia Silverman, solid in a role that is properly thankless).

If you have even a passing acquaintance with 20th-century history and a short-term memory good enough to remember the terms “Yiddish,” “Poland,” and “1946” in the preceding paragraph, you probably already know that Lusia and mother get caught up in the Holocaust. Setting aside a needless but extremely brief 1876 prologue, the play opens just as Mordechai informs Rose that he’s found her sister, who is due to arrive in four days and will be staying with Rose in her apartment (kudos to the ICT set designers, who are always good).

The effectiveness of what unfolds comes mostly from the emotional eddies born by the flow of a plot that isn’t about giving you anything surprising in the broad strokes. Father (Mordechai) and daughter (Lusia) show a perfect resemblance of businesslike manner as they compare notebooks on the fatal fate of just about every family member they had. It’s in the tense silence the actors let hang in the air after Lusia finally confronts her father about his failure to send for the women he left behind when he had the chance. It’s in the sudden, understated finale, powerfully touching because no more takes place than is necessary.

There are two minor problems with the script: we’re a little fuzzy on the details of why Mordechai left his wife in the first place, the status of their relationship, the how/why of their arrangement to separate the sisters, etc.; and there seem to be some time issues, like the number of years ago the emigration would need to have taken place to line up the details of the backstory (the press release says 15 (definitely wrong), my notes say 17, but it probably needed to be at least 19 for things to add up). But these solecisms are easy to forgive when you’re listening to dialog that comes off as natural enough even when Lebow is obviously going for pithy (“If you had no one, you were dead. If you had someone, you had to live so they could live”) or sowing thematic seeds (e.g., the importance of lines of descent). She even tosses in some Act Two recurrences that don’t play out as forced (a man on a horse, why Lusia refuses to wear a coat).

Some of the production details are a little less forgivable. In prior shows Desai has often proven heavy-handed, and at times he can’t help himself here—such as with some clichéd sound cues (do we really need nightmarish music during nightmares?). A huge problem early on is the way he has the actors laugh—as if they’re caricaturing laughter, as if people laughed differently 64 years ago. (Thankfully, we’re pretty much spared that in Act Two.) But Desai certainly deserves credit for getting the rhythm right, and for seamlessly orchestrating Lebow’s choice to quick-dissolve character accents when transitioning into (day)dream sequences.

Aside from the aforementioned problem in Act One, the cast is spot-on from top to bottom. If the spotlight belongs to anyone, it’s de Weerd, who is equally convincing conveying Lusia’s suffering and sadness, gratitude and anger, stubbornness and overwhelm. It’s a ranging role, and she’s equal to all of it.

Eisenberg’s character is the most dangerous to play; it would be easy to stereotype this prototypical strong-willed Jewish patriarch. But Eisenberg’s Mordechai is a distinct individual, something we see most strongly in the separate, particular dynamic he has with each of his daughters.

One of the treats of Act Two is the expanded views we get of Howard’s Rose and of Luisa’s husband (Charles Pasternak) and childhood best friend (Erin Anne Williams)—a turn that’s equally a tribute to the author and the actors. We probably aren’t surprised that Rose displays more depth as things progress (and Howard handles it perfectly), but we wouldn’t have guessed that Pasternak and Williams would get the chance to shine as much as they do. It’s part of what makes the dramatic arc of the play so satisfying.

I attended A Shayna Maidel opening night, and the International City  Theater (a fantastic space) was about half-full. That’s too bad on a number of levels—especially because if in your life you were to see one and only one ICT production, you probably could not do better than this version of a play that got its first run at the ICT in 1992. “We wanted to reprise one play from our archives in celebration of our 25th Anniversary [sic],” says Desai in the press release, “and this beautiful play kept calling to me.” Good call, sir.

A SHAYNA MAIDEL INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE  • 300 E OCEAN BLVD • LONG BEACH 90802 • 562.436.4610 • ICTLONGBEACH.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM, SUN 2PM • $32-$42 | THROUGH JULY 3

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  1. Dwight K Snider
    June 13, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Citizen Journalist Quote of the Day — Pretty Girls and the Holocaust

    “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”

    (Source: Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 — 1962)

    Note: The above quote is included in a solicitation letter from the Neptune Society regarding their pre-need cremation plans. I opened the letter minutes before reading Mr. Moore’s post.

  2. Eric Marchese
    June 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    ICT’s venue, formerly called The Center Theater, is now referred to the same as the company: International City Theatre. The Terrace Theater is a gargantuan, 3,000-seat hall that houses ICT along its back side, with ICT wedged between the Terrace and the main hall of the Long Beach Convention Center. Same address (300 E. Ocean Blvd.) but two entirely different, and separate, venues.

  3. אלרט פיי
    August 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm

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  1. June 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

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