Two sisters, a mere six years apart in age, are literally worlds apart in life experiences. Rose Weiss (Christy Hall) left Poland for New York with her father, Mordechai Weiss (Ralph Elias), at age four. Her mother (D. Candis Paule) and older sister, Luisa (Jessica John) were left in Poland, suffering under both the Russian and German invasions and occupations.
These two strangers are brought together in 1946 and live in Rose’s small apartment. Revealed over the rest of the play is the history of the Weiss family and friends. While there is a sad history for those that remained in Poland, there is a warmth that develops in the sisters. Mordechai is a traditional stern, dictatorial father, whose inner core barely shows through.
Set Designer Marty Burnett’s Manhattan apartment feels authentic . . . cramped with barely enough room for even a modest selection of furnishings. One can only imagine a tiny Pullman kitchen just down the hall from the postage stamp-size dining room. The single-sized bed just fits in the closet-sized sleeping area. Yet, the design works well for the cast.
Playwright Barbara Lebow’s A Shayna Maidel calls for a creative use of space and the ability of the cast to transport the audience through time and space. Director David Ellenstein, aided by Lighting Director Matt Novotney, does just that. We know when we are in a camp, we know when we are in Poland, and we know when Luisa is thinking about her lost husband, David Pechinik (Christopher M. Williams). Excellent staging and direction. At times we are transported back in time when Luisa is young and playing with her friend Hanna (Maya Baldwin).
Contrasting the thoughts and feelings of Luisa past and present is a tour of acting power on Jessica John’s part. She becomes Luisa back in Poland, changing her speech and body language. Her character’s determined effort to find her lost husband, her adaptation to her new home, and a sister that can speak but a few words of Polish creates inner tensions which we can see and feel. The contrast between Rose’s stylish attire and the humble threads of Luisa further define their characters. Compliments to Costume Designer Jeanne Reith.
A Shayna Maidel is a powerful experience for the audience. The stylistic elements create an easily understood story. Director, cast, designers, and crew have given us further evidence that live theatre is very much alive and healthy in greater San Diego.
Maya Baldwin, Ralph Elias, Christy Hall, Jessica John, D. Candis Paule, Christopher M. Williams
Set Design Marty Burnett, Sound Design Chris Luessmann, Lighting Design Matt Novotney, Costume Design Jeanne Reith, Props/Set Dressing Bonnie Durben, Stage Manager Heather M. Brose
Total Rating: Three and half stars
Author: Barbara Lebow
Director: David Ellenstein
Date Reviewed: February 23, 2008
Dates: Thursday to Sunday, thru March 23, 2008
Running Time: 135 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive
Solana Beach, CA
Box Office Phone 858 481-1055 & www.northcoastrep.org