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A CurtainUp Review

By Miriam Colin

Lizzie Loveridge on Rose in London
Editor's Note: Often what's terrific in London is also terrific in New York. A case in point, Michael Frayn's thought-provoking Copenhagen. On the other hand, to use one of Olympia Dukakis's favorite phrases in Rose, sometimes a play that's a hit in one place can ring hollow in another. Our London critic, Lizzie Loveridge saw Rose she was moved by its content and its solo performer. And she was not alone. I suspect that London doesn't have as many century spanning grandmas who grew up in shtetls as does New York. Miriam Colin knew two authentic East European grandmas -- and great-grandmas. Consequently her shivah visit to Olympia Dukakis was not quite the memorable and deeply moving event that it was for Lizzie. At any rate, to give the play and the player a fair reading, here are opinions from both sides of the ocean .

The celebrated American actor Olympia Dukakis held a crowd of hardened theatre critics spellbound as she played a woman reflecting on her life from her birth in the Ukraine to the America of today. Rose'by Martin Sherman is a superb play for the end of the twentieth century as it casts a retrospective view on some of the changes which we have seen over the last one hundred years. World events are filtered to us through the eyes of a Jewish woman with all the skill of a great storyteller and wonderful, self-deprecating and sardonic Jewish humour. It is an intensely personal account and totally absorbing.

The play opens with Rose, sitting on a hard wooden bench. She is sitting "shivah", (a Jewish mourning ritual) for a young girl, killed by a bullet through her forehead, which seemed to cut a thought in half. She tells us that Judaism's greatest contribution to mankind is to ask questions which have no answers. She begins her questining by going back to the shtetl (Yiddish for a small town) in the Ukraine, where she grew up. Her life as a girl is interspersed with moments of deep historic importance. For example, her first period coincides with a Cossak progrom against Jews, leads her to observe "I suppose if you have your first period and your first pogrom within the same month,you can safely assume childhood is over." This is a key to the play's charm, the author's lightness of touch in juxtaposing pain and humour.

We follow Rose to Warsaw, to the ghetto where she meets and falls in love with a remarkable man, bears his child and loses both of them, as recounted in a harrowing account of the German SS raid on the ghetto. Unusually, for a story like this, she is not incarcerated in a camp and the play moves to her meeting her American husband, Sonny, after she is on a boat turned away by the British from Palestine. Rose moves to Atlantic City, New Jersey which she describes as "Warsaw on the Sea"! Here she becomes a career woman. Eventually she moves to Miami Beach, Florida where she becomes a hotel owner. Her son and grandchildren do get to Palestine and Rose has much to say about what she finds there.

It is deeply moving experience to hear this woman who has suffered so much in her life and who hides nothing from us. The playwright's minute observations are expertly rendered by Ms. Dukakis. Nancy Mekler's direction is so adept that we do not notice it.

The stage of the tiny Cottesloe brings us into such close physical proximity with Rose that, as one of my colleagues observed, it is almost like cinema. The difference is that there is only one take.

Olympia Dukakis is a seriously accomplished actress but she wasn't acting at the end of the play, when there were tears in her eyes at the warmth of her reception from the British audience on her opening night. One not to be missed.
Miriam Colin on Rose in New York

By all rights Rose should resonate mightily with New York's large Jewish theater going population, many old enough to closely identify with many of the events related in this monologue. In point of fact, this Grandma Rose survivor story is an unbearably long shivah visit, without family and friends or coffee and cake to provide relief from the bare-footed shivah sitter's reminiscences. Granted, Rose has been through some harrowing times, many of them seminal historic events (Russian progroms, Nazi persecution, the immigrant experience) but so have many other people, including members of my own family.

Olympia Dukakis is to be admired for her presence and ability to sit on that bench throughout this performance. However, she's not an especially persuasive symbol of Twentieth Century Judaism. I found her accent distractingly unauthentic, the humorous touches more than a little ho- hum and consequently failing to create the playwright's attempt to blend sadness and lightness. Mr. Sherman's Bent, which I saw in London and New York, was a much more wrenching experience.

Unlike the overly abundant one-person plays that can nowadays be found on Broadway as well as off , Rose does not restrict itself to a palatable 80 or 90 minutes without intermission. Instead it is a full course meal -- two acts, lasting 2 1/2 hours and putting Rose into more world event connected situations than the heroine of The Perils of Pauline. Unfortunately, the better and more dramatically solid part of this meal does not come until you've suffered, literally, through a lengthy slow-motion first act. This brings to mind Elyse Sommer's recent review of the revival of two Noël Coward plays, the second better than the first (ed note: Suite in 2 Keys). As Elyse described the order of business in that production, Rose too is like many concerts which are " programmed so that the audiences must sit through a Hindemith or Berg, before being allowed to enjoy the Brahms or Beethoven or Mendelsohn."

Nancy Meckler's tightly controlled direction suits the play. The design team has given us a nice glimpse of Rose's life when she's not riveted to that shivah bench. I wish I could say that I too was riveted in my seat, unaware of the almost unendurable lengthiness of this monologue. Many people in the audience did end up with damp eyes -- so if you go, bring Kleenex.

by Martin Sherman
Directed by Nancy Meckler

Starring Olympia Dukakis.
Set Design: Stephen Brimson Lewis. Lighting by . Sound by
Lighting Design: Johanna Town
Sound Design: Peter Salem and Scott Anderson.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Presented by Lincoln Center Theater by arrangement with the Royal National Theater
Theatre: Lyceum, 149 W.45th St. (Broadway/ 6th Av) 239-6200
3/28/2000-5/20/200; opening 4/12

Reviewed by Miriam Colin based on 4/13 performance


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