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Leah, the Forsaken
What else was left us? Houseless wanderers, as we hung our harps upon the willows that line the shore of Babel, our torturers derisively bade us sing. — Leah
Regina Gibson (photo: Alex Tremitiere)
Drama critic, theatre manager, playwright, and adapter, John Augustin Daly was one of the most influential men in American theater during the latter part of the 19th century. His first play was Leah, the Forsaken, an adaptation of a translation of Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal's Deborah.

Mosenthal's drama, which premiered in Hamburg in 1849, was translated into fifteen different languages and inspired numerous adaptations. Playing throughout Europe, it became a star vehicle for actresses such as the legendary Sarah Bernhardt. In the 1900s, was turned into three silent films.

It's not hard to see what attracted Daly to the story. Set in Austria during the early part of the 18th century, Leah, the Forsaken focuses on a Jewish refugee named Leah who arrives in town after fleeing Hungary and captures the heart of Rudolph, a handsome Christian. The town's citizens; Rudolph's father, Lorenz, an old Magistrate; and Rudolph's childhood friend, Madalena, disapprove. But it is a certain shady schoolmaster who is most vociferous in his denunciations.

The show was popular for thirty years. Most probably audiences were more enticed by the drama and exoticism of the play than its call for religious tolerance. Indeed the cast of characters includes many of the stereotypes that had been familiar to audiences for hundreds of years, including the treacherous Jew and the comely and innocent Jewess. Today neither the play nor the author is exactly a household name. Such is the fate of the famous.

However, this season Metropolitan Playhouse, a company that specializes in plays from America's literary past and plays based on American history, is bringing the play back under the direction of Francis X. Kuhn. It's extremely melodramatic, even for it's time with its declarations of undying love, cruel abandonment and even a lightening bolt. The language is consistently over the top. People, especially Leah, spend lots of time swooning.

For a modern audience this is all a bit difficult to swallow. Nevertheless, the cast does a commendable job with the overwrought language and extravagant action. Regina Gibson, as Leah, always keeps her dignity. Jeffrey Grover manages to spit out the Schoolmaster's asides with believable rancor. And Ron Nummi gives the production much needed humor as Ludwig, the town's barber and doctor. But my personal favorite was Talia Cuomo, who plays Madalena and Rudolph's adorable child.

Set designer Michael LeBron has made very efficient use of a small stage, with painted walls and rotating flats that create the feel of a small European village. And the selections chosen by music consultant Jonathan Allentown, are atmospheric and appropriate. But despite all these efforts, there are times when the play limps along under its own weight.

No doubt Leah, the Forsaken was chosen for its historic value. Nevertheless, some discreet editing would have gone a long way to making this play more contemporary and approachable.

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Leah, the Forsaken by John Augustin Daly
Directed by Francis X. Kuhn
Cast: Noelia Antweiler (Madalena); John Ingle (Father Herman); Joe Candelora; (Loeenz); Jeffrey Grover (Schoolmaster Berthold) Melissa Hurst (Mother Groschen); Terrence Dinen (Grophan); Dena Rysdam Miller (Martha); Ron Nummi (Ludwig); Ray Field (Fritz); Matt DeLuca (Jacob); Margaret Catov (Dame Gertrude); Regina Gibson (Leah); Jon Berry (Rudolph); Kati Schwartz (Sarah); Ray Field (Abraham); Kati Schwartz (Rosel); Talia Cuomo (Child)
Set Design: Michael LeBron
Lighting Design: Samantha Davis and Patrick Mahaney
Sound Design: Jacob Subotnick
Costume Design: Sidney Fortner
Fight Choreographer: Scott Barrow
Stage Manager: Ingrid Pierson
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E. 4 Street,
From 2/10/17; opening 2/17/17; closing 3/12/17
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm (with talkback), with additional performances March 1 & 8 at 3pm
Tickets: $30 general; $25 students/seniors; $10 children
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 26, 2017

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