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The Chester Theater Summer 2007 Season
By Elyse Sommer
Last Updated: August 20, 2007
Mercy of a Storm
About this All-In-One Format: Since summer theater productions run such a short time, we've decided to try something new this summer. Instead of retiring each show after it makes way for the next production, we're putting details and reviews of shows at a particular theater on one page so that everything remains at your fingertips. No need to click to the archives unless you are looking for something from a past season.
The Chester Theater Productions to be reviewed are listed below in the order in which they will be performed. A click on a show will jump you down to that show's details-- an * asterisk before a title indicates that a review is posted.
Chester Town Hall, Middlefield Street off Route 20
(413 - 354 -7771)
web site— formerly the Miniature Theater of Chester
Weds-Sat at 8pm
Thurs & Sun at 2pm
Shows To Be Covered
Click show title for basic details * added when review is posted
June 18 -29
*Mercy of a Storm
August 1 to 12
August 15 to 26
Fortunately there are enough artistic enterprises willing to take a chance on a compellingly written and staged Holocaust play. The inclusion of Jonathan Lichtenstein's powerful and often painful to watch Memory at last Fall's Brits Off-Broadway Festival was a case in point. (my review). Sholiton's The Interview currently at the Chester Theater is another.
Before I go any further, I should point out that while The Interview is indeed a sad tale illustrating the way the Nazi horrors scarred not only its survivors but their children, thanks to Geraldine Librand's vivid, nuanced portrayal sixty-nine-year-old Bracha Weissman, this ninety minute, intermissionless play is not just deeply moving but often funny. Furthermore while Bracha declares that "after Auschwitz there are no happy endings" the play does end with a glimmer of hope that Bracha will have fewer crippling "episodes" of despair and that daughter Rivka (Nicole Orth-Pallavicini) and her family will be able to become a part of her life again. Ann Meshenberg (Elizabeth Norment), the interviewer, who's also a survivor's daughter, intensifies the theme of the power of forgiveness to heal even the widest chasms between daughter and mother.
Sholiton, like her characters, is from Ohio but is not herself a Holocaust survivor. A working journalist turned playwright, it was as an interviewer for the Ohio branch of Stephen Spielberg's Shoa project that she became aware of the psychological traumas preventing people like Bracha from having healthy, normal relationships with the children born after the Nazi horrors and those children's problems of dealing with their parents' past.
The ever present shadows hanging over the homes of Holocaust survivors was first explored by Helen Epstein in her 1988 book Children of the Holocaust, which brought many of these secondary victims of the Nazi horrors together to share their pain, guilt and puzzlement. Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus was another building block in the literature by children of Nazi era victims.
While Bracha, Rivka and Ann are characters crafted from the marginal notes of Sholiton's interviews for the Shoa project, there are no raggedy seams of inexpert patchworking in her play. The 1995 time frame makes the characters' ages historically accurate (Bracha just short of seventy; Rivka and Ann in their forties).
The playwright's stand-in is an appealingly all-American mom who has volunteered to do some of these two hour video interviews for very personal reasons. This expands the mother-daughter theme a bit too schematically, but it works because the characters are written with warmth and credibility which is fully realized on stage, especially by Geraldine Librandi as the acerbic, controlling yet emotionally fragile Bracha. Though at first Librandi seems a bit young for the part, this is quickly forgotten. As you get to look beneath the tough, emotionally guarded shell of this woman you realize that she's probably been old enough to pass for seventy for the last forty years.
The play, like the original interviews is structured as a preliminary fact-gathering session, to be followed by a video segment during which the interviewee talks about her life, and her family and what happened when the Nazis went forward with their extermination program. As Bracha sarcastically puts it "so you want my life in two hours?" This twenty-four hour time frame makes for a tightly concentrated drama that takes us back and forth between Bracha's past and the present that integrates Ann's own conflict as the child of survivors and that of Bracha's own estranged daughter, Rivka.
Rivka, unlike her brother, is very much alive in California. But she's a ghostly presence, what Bracha calls "my Greek Chorus!"— appearing intermittently to correct Bracha and fill in things she alludes to with her own memories. Rivka's pain over her mother's suffering and her inability to deal with her often unmotherly nagging and coldness are most touchingly expressed in a high school essay written in her mother's voice and found by Ann tucked inside another kept by Bracha:
"My war never ends. It sticks to me, like a second skin and gnaws away at me, body and soul. Yes, I survived the war, but each battle left me wounded, and every wound chipped away a piece of me, leaving eyes that would never weep again; a heart filled with poison; and a tongue with no words to describe what I saw."
That notebook episode also paves the way for a powerful scene between Bracha and Ann in which the older woman forces the younger one to face her demons. This emotional exorcism affects both women and had a number of people in the audience in tears.
Though written in two acts, with a natural break for anyone wishing to stage it with an intermission, it's easy to see why director Victor Maog has opted not to interrupt the flow of the piece. His sensitive direction is well supported by Sandra Goldmark's nicely detailed but simple set design, and the work of lighting, costume and sound designers.
If I haven't mentioned the fourth cast member, Jeff Vatore who plays the young substitute cameraman, Chris McDonald, it's because he doesn't arrive on stage until the final stage. Small as his part is, it is an important finale to support the play's somewhat hopeful conclusion. It is when Bracha declares that so many survivors kept their "unspeakable secrets" because nobody gave a damn and, if the newspaper headlines are any indication, still don't, it's Chris who says " We give a damn, Mrs. Weissman." So it seems does the audience at the Chester Theater.
— reviewed by Elyse Sommer on July 19th.
Mercy of a Storm
It is New Year's Eve, 1945, and the Mills Brothers are crooning. The ambient lighting suggests that cozy, well-heeled and self-conscious clubby atmosphere of small town USA, white middle class comfort.
Two refugees from the storm, George (Steve Hendrickson) and Zanovia (Chandler Vinton) arrive to meet in private, removed from the raucous party in the main club house. The audience settles in to hear the background stories of these trysting lovers, only to discover that the company they are fleeing are their respective lawyers in their own divorce actions. With this unlikely premise, we are thrown back to the zany comedies of the '30's, but with more punch and verve.
George, an aging insurance executive, and his younger, very attractive second wife, Zanovia, are meeting against their lawyers' advice. Their private pas de deux, the old dance of a warring couple, begins the journey to its certain denouement—or does it? Along the way we are challenged by the mystery and drama of their long relationship and this night's outcome. Their witty and brittle commentary about war and peace between countries and couples is appropriate to the time period.
There is also a class war being played out between the very proper Episcopal George and the Polish Catholic and very sensual Zanovia. She is passionate; he is priggish. Will their marital memories and recriminations possibly keep us interested for an hour and forty minutes?
As the play twists and turns back on itself, the couple explores the minefields of marriage and the history of their shared anguish. The audience is kept guessing as to whether their dilemma be resolved as they try to reconcile their differences before the stroke of twelve.
Hatcher's dialogue deftly and subtly weaves the story back and forth in this complex examination of George and Zanovia's love affair, marriage and divorce. We are, in turn, annoyed, dismayed and amused by their human frailties.
Steve Hendrickson as George is obviously in love with Zanovia and just as obviously hopeless in his inability to correctly gauge the results of his actions on his wife's sensibilities. Under his brusque exterior, we sense the passion that Zanovia stirs in him and his struggles to resist her. However, Hatcher's dialogue reveals the deeper problems when Zanovia says, "I think you still love me," and George replies, "It's not a question of love; it's a question of marriage."
Chandler Vinton's Zanovia is the classical blonde bombshell with a brain and conscience. She exudes sensuality in and out of her '40's black evening gown and floor length mink. Her smoldering languor has clearly inflamed George's pent-up emotions. Her lines are some of the funniest of the play, though sometimes she swallows her words and the joke is lost. During the performance this reviewer attended many audience members complained that they could not hear or understand her. This problem will hopefully disappear during the rest of the run because Vinton is stunning and believable as a woman confounded by love. When she cries out to George, "I don't want romance, I want love," we are caught up in the eddy of their swirling and palpable confusions.
The set, lighting and sound designs enhance the audience's participation in the intimate revelations to which we are privy. Lara Dubin's finely nuanced lighting serves to heighten both the comfort and claustrophobia of Charles Corcoran's set design which hints at the duality of the club's success and suffocation. Sheila Siragusa's set pictures serve to create the immediacy of this couple's crisis, not just in their marriage but within their very beings.
This is a rich exploration of the many facets that enter into play within the context of love. The tension created by the couple's complex natures, played out against the elements of the greater world, help to explain why marriages and the world are never quite at peace. . .even on a silent, snow-becalmed light.
—Reviewed by Gloria Miller.
Wright, the writer of HBO's Six Feet Under,earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the United Theological Seminary. He has used his familiarity with absolute evangelical theology to set up a sparring match with competing theories as to the meaning of life and man's place in the universe.
Though the play opens with a violent act, the audience is treated to dark humor and heart-wrenching soul searching as the four characters hurtle inevitably towards the end we know awaits them. We hope, as they do, that somehow "something" will intervene.
The one-room set serves as two adjacent condos with the actors fluidly moving back and forth, sometimes sharing the same area while the action seems to mirror the ideas of time and space that Sam (Jay Stratton), a NASA scientist, so glibly explains. In one condo, Steve (Bill Mootos) and his wife Sara (Ann Marie Siegwarth), a young, energetic, all American couple, seek a new life. They believe that God has led them to Florida from Minnesota, in order to turn dying motels into a sort of religious-themed, gospel chain. Steve's interpretation of God is as some sort of personal career guide. His line "Where would Jesus stay?" is only one of the amusing , and sometimes maddeningly disturbing, religious platitudes he utters in his attempt to persuade the other three characters and himself that righteousness will prevail; his interpretation of it, that is. Sara, who seems the more deeply religious of the two, gradually begins to suspect that her marriage, along with Steve's mysterious business deals, are not exactly inspired by God.
Even without the first scene which suggests Steve's disturbed frame of mind, he generates that shiny-glazed eye fanaticism that we have come to associate with those who feel that it is their belief system that will conquer the world's vicissitudes. Unfortunately, Steve also seems to feel that the other people in his tiny universe, Sara, Sam (Jay Stratton) and Karl (Tim Donoghue,) are his to convert and control. Steve uses his disarmingly winning smile, casual questions and naïve good humor as a weapon to mine the weaknesses and doubts in others.
Karl, the condo's pest exterminator, reveals a haunting story from his Holocaust past and the horrific incidents which continue to haunt him. Sam, disfigured in a car accident which killed his fiancée, struggles with questions regarding own culpability. All except Steve, who is mired in his own certitude, are embroiled in the search for self awareness and self-forgiveness which is really at the heart of this tragedy/drama with comic asides.
On the whole, the acting is sincere. The characters' personal quirks remain hidden until they evolve in their conversations. Maintaining a realistic tone for inflammatory dialogue is a lesson in acting discipline. The cast creates a sense of conflict without indulging in melodrama. A caveat: some of their sounds are swallowed by a lack of proper articulation and/or recognition of the need for projection without the use of a sound system.
Byam Stevens' direction is taut and provocative. He moves the production fluently, subtly building to each climax.
At times the play serves as a polemical conduit for the warring philosophical factions of the modern age. As each character wrestles with inner demons and the world's chaotic and often cruel twists, it is Steve alone, secure in his personal beliefs, who will do the most damage. The playwright seems fascinated by the effects of guilt and regret, coupled with the need for atonement and forgiveness.
This is a startling and timely production which will both amuse and dishearten. Though this is a play, we witness the result of dogmatic ideas every day as our world is fractionalized by militant ideologues, who often sound as reasonable yet act as insanely as Steve does.
Does the beginning of the play, which is part of the ending, have to be repeated? This is something which can be discussed on the way home, along with the profusion of ideas Wright slips into his fast-paced dialogue.
—Reviewed by Gloria Miller.
By Craig Wright
Directed by Byam Stevens
What it's about: Steve's a born-again real estate developer with plans for a chain of Gospel theme hotels. Sam's a NASA computer programmer whose life and face were ruined in a fiery car crash. They're neighbors in a Florida condo. Sara, Sam's wife is becoming increasingly interested in the disfigured man next door. Then there's Karl — the exterminator for the condo complex, a German born immigrant with his own horrific tales of sin and forgiveness.
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