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  WINDY CITY TIMES

A Shayna Maidel
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2018-09-05

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Playwright: Barbara Lebow

At: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: 773-281-8436; TimeLineTheatre.com; $40-$54. Runs through: Nov. 4

A Shayna Maidel, first produced in the mid-1980s, is among the most successful of the many plays about those who survived or avoided The Holocaust. In this TimeLine production, it succeeds almost in spite of itself.

The play's language is credible enough but often is stiff and unspontaneous, while the plot utilizes arbitrary and artificial mechanics similar to 19th-century drama. It's also nearly devoid of humor and sentimentality—a hard, stern play in which the three principal characters deeply repress their emotions. Like an October rose, however, it blooms late with an incident that—although artificial—provides necessary emotional release for the characters and audiences, and a bittersweet happy ending.

It's set in 1946 New York City, where 69-year-old Mordechai Weiss ( Charles Stransky ) is a successful Brooklyn businessman. He came from Poland in the '20s with his daughter, Raisel, just four. He planned to bring over his wife and older daughter when he'd made enough money, but the Depression wiped out his savings and then came Hitler. Although never vulgar, Mordechai is loud, peremptory and exhibits no emotion other than impatience. Raisel, meanwhile, is thoroughly assimilated. Living in a small-but-stylish Manhattan apartment, she calls herself Rose White ( Bri Sudia until Oct. 21 ) and has few memories of her sister and none of her mother, not even that her mother called her "shayna maidel," Yiddish for "pretty girl." And then the sister, Lusia ( Emily Berman ), unexpectedly arrives in New York as a Holocaust survivor.

All three Weisses are haunted, although Rose and Mordechai don't know it until Lusia's arrival triggers survivor's guilt. The left-behind mother/wife ( Carin Schapiro Silkaitis ) is the main ghost, but Lusia also is haunted by a childhood friend ( Sarah Wisterman ) and, especially, by memories of her lost young husband ( Alex Stein ). Can the three understand each other? Do they share anything other than blood? Can they be a family?

As directed by Vanessa Stalling—who's really come into her own in the last two years—all the performers are effective and gain our empathy except Stransky, who's not supposed to be sympathetic. Still, the play lumbers along—not because it's boring but because its deliberate pace offers no resolution without the late plot surprises.

The look is splendid. In short, the production has the integrity we've come to expect from TimeLine.


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