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A CurtainUp Review
Mrs. Feuerstein
Nobody cares anymore. . . It's sacred. More than sacred. Unspeakable. Beyond language.
-- Mrs. Feuerstein, a writer and English teacher obsessed with her memories of the Holocaaust.
Lynnda Ferguson & Maria O'Brien
(l-r:) Lynnda Ferguson &
Maria O'Brien
Murray Mednick, a pioneer of the Off and Off-Off movement in the 60's and 70's, returns to the New York stage with Mrs. Feuerstein. Set in the 1965, this psychological thriller about a mentally unstable woman obsessed with the Holocaust is part of a trilogy presented last season in Los Angeles (16 Routines and Joe and Betty). The New York production, like the LA premiere, is directed by Roxanne Rogers and has Maria O'Brien and Lynnda Ferguson reprising the two key roles; O'Brien as the title character and Ferguson as Freida Wohl, the primary object of her obsession

Some fitting alternative titles for this play would be The Three Mrs. Feuersteins or The Three Faces of Mrs. Feuerstein for the playwright draws a three-way portrait of his troubled main character: In the present and real world of the play, we have the nervous, impoverished Jewish refugee who is anxious to fit in at the Pennsylvania private school where she has been hired on the basis of her academic credentials (spurious) and achievements as a poet (minor).

Insecurity about her new job sends Mrs. Feuerstein to the analytical couch of Nancy (Samantha Quan) and it is in Nancy's office that we meet the second Mrs. Feuerstein, the one who teeters on the brink of madness. Her long-standing fantasies of wreaking vengeance against Nazis are rekindled by her interaction with Max Wohl (Daniel Ahearn), a colleague and fellow German refugee (but not Jewish), and his wheelchair bound blonde wife Freida (Lynndaa Ferguson). Though Wohl tries to be friendly, the suspicious and tightly wound Feuerstein projects her memories of Nazis in Poland onto the Wohls.

It is the third Mrs. Feuerstein who gives Mednick's play its most disturbing twist -- a play-within-the-play-in-progress, in which Mrs. F. has the leading role -- you guessed it, as an avenger determined to destroy a pair of Nazis who are now American citizens. Writing the play is at once practical and therapeutic. She feels she must write something to give substance to her questionable credentials and, more importantly, words are her key for dealing with the devils that drive her fantasy life. Her play's other characters are the Wohls, he now cast as a former Nazi who committed unspeakable acts and Freida as one of the "good Germans" (per Jonathan Goldhagen's Hitler'sWilling Executioners) who fiddled and had fun while (and because?) Mrs. F's family and dozens of other Jews were killed. (According to the program notes Mednick wrote Mrs. Feuerstein shortly after reading the Goldhagen book).

Once Mrs. Feuerstein begins her play, the sessions with the therapist revolve around its development, and Nancy is increasingly dismayed. No wonder. The author constantly slips and reveals herself ever closer to the edge of being as madly obsessive as her character. The vengeance plot takes a psycho-sexual turn (Mrs. F. and Freida playing out the former's need for vengeance and the latter's need for repentance in a sado-masochistic relationship that leaves Max a helpless and emasculated third wheel). Even Nancy's supervising analyst (Dana Gladstone) to whom she plays back some of the taped sessions can't help (the taping is agreed to by Mrs. Feuerstein in exchange for a reduced rate though she repeatedly, and as something of an aside that diverts more than it enlightens, refuses to pay anything at all).

O'Brien gives an interestingly studied performance. The flickering glances out of sad, haunted eyes; the jumpy jerks and starts every time the school bell rings; the bursts of aggressive words; the many pregnant pauses . . .  all suit the complexities of the role. Lynnda Ferguson is an apt collaborator in the sado-masochistic denouement.

In some ways the stylized acting and dramatic construct of this play reminded me of a revival several seasons ago of Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant (Our Review). But while that production had an aura of elegant decadence that made it highly watchable, this one is not staged quite as satisfyingly. The action segues smoothly and effectively between the concurrent plot threads and the spareness of the staging is appropriate -- a couch and a chair at one side for the therapist-patient interchanges, two chairs at the opposite side for the play-within-the-play scenes, and a space between the two for the scenes at the school. However, spare does not mean shabby and this production could use a bit more sleekness.

To add to my quibbles, Mednick's play, despite some laugh inducing lines, is heavy and difficult to watch and tends to bog down during many of its pauses and discussions (especially between the two therapists). Thus, while the press release declared this to be "one of the sleeper plays of the season" there are some who may find this to be more apt in the literal sense than as a prediction of its audience appeal.

Written by Murray Mednick
Directed by Roxanne Rogers

Cast (alphabetical order): Daniel Ahearn, Lynnda Ferguson, Dana Gladstone Maria O'Brien, Samantha Quan, .
Set Design: Michelle Malavet
Costume Design: Harwood Lee
Lighting Design: Jeremy Morris
Original Score: O-Lan Jones:
Running Time: 2 hours plus 15-minute intermission
Padua Players at Chashama Theatre (135 W. 42 St.) 212-206-1515
Padua Web Site
From 11/28/0112/16/01; opening 12/01/02
Wed-Sat at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm -- $15
Extended to an Off-Broadway contract and running until 1/27/02. With a new performance schedulle after 12/16: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. and tickets jumping to $35.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 2nd matinee.
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