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Eavesdropping on Dreams
Rivka Bekerman-Greenberg’s first playwriting attempt, Eavesdropping on Dreams, appears to be based on both family stories and professional experience. The child of Holocaust survivors, Bekerman-Greenberg is also a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst who leads workshops and therapy groups concentrating on the treatment of the transmission of trauma between generations. This may make her an expert on Holocaust survivors but it does not make her a playwright, which is glaringly obvious in her first work.
Eavesdropping on Dreams is a about Rosa (Lynn Cohen), a survivor of the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz; her daughter Renee (Stephanie Roth Haberle), who was born in a displaced persons camp; and her granddaughter, Shaina (Aidan Koehler), a 25-year-old medical student determined to find out more about her family history. It's an intergenerational drama in which all three family members try to come to terms with the scars left by the Holocaust. It is told under the watchful eyes of Uncle Yakov (Mike Shapiro), who died many years ago in Europe.
The main problem in this family is one of communication. Rosa refuses to tell her daughter the whole story of what went on during those awful days in Poland. Renee won’t tell Shaina much about her gentile father, a man who had his own family at the time of Shaina’s conception and subsequently never took an interest in his daughter. But there is also a darker side to these people. Renee, a successful neonatal doctor, likes to sleep with abusive men, particularly when they don a Nazi cap. Rosa is hiding something under her sweet smile and wrinkled face.
Bekerman-Greenberg seems to believe the way to let the audience discover her characters’ inner trauma is through a series of scenes that play out like psychotherapy sessions. These sessions are accompanied by repeated angry accusations and tearful entreaties. It’s a bit like a year’s worth of a soap opera rolled into one evening.
Interspersed between the therapy sessions, flashbacks bring the audience back to Lodz, where Shapiro becomes the evil Rumkowski issuing his detestable edicts. These flashbacks provide a teaching moment for the playwright but not much help in understanding the interpersonal relationships of the family.
It’s hard to understand why director Ronald Cohen took on this play without calling for massive revisions. We may never know whether he saw the show’s flaws, but we can see that he has done nothing to rein in the mounting hysteria.
The cast is led by the formidable Lynn Cohen (who was featured opposite Jane Alexander several years ago in Tina Howe’s Chasing Manet). Cohen makes the best of dialogue saddled with an abundance of yiddishisms, along with enough schtick for one or two borscht belt comedians. But even her considerable ability is no match for the playwright’s inability to craft believable and creative dialogue. The other cast members never let the audience forget they are acting.
The idea of of portraying a family dealing with past trauma is filled with possibilities. Perhaps in Bekerman-Greenberg’s next endeavor she will learn how to use a scalpel and not a shovel.
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