TimeLine Theatre, shoehorned into Lakeview’s Wellington Avenue Church, physically embodies Barbara Lebow’s A SHAYNA MAIDEL. Every corner of the space and every moment of the play is full. Not everything flows smoothly. Not everything feels like it belongs. But when something works, it has real power. This production is about intense emotions erupting in intimate spaces.
Example: In the 1946 Upper West Side apartment onstage, there’s a red bread box in the kitchen. Rose, a self-supporting young Jewish woman, offers her father some Schnapps when he comes to visit. Yes, he replies, he’ll have some -- with a slice of bread. She takes two from the period-perfect bread box and he barks that he only needs one slice. Two is wasteful.
The moment defines character – overbearing Mordecai trapped by his own obsessions and earnest Rose struggling to forge an independent life. It also defines both personal and political history. For those unsettled by today’s global immigration crises, A SHAYNA MAIDEL offers a snapshot of a family separated when America closed its doors during World War II. Mordecai emigrated from his native Poland with four-year-old Rose many years before Hitler subsumed Europe. But he also left behind his wife and an older daughter Lusia – until it was too late to rescue them. His wife perished at Auschwitz, Lusia survived.
Survival and arrival shape A SHAYNA MAIDEL
When Lusia arrives in New York, baby sister Rose – remembered only as their parents’ “shayna maidel” (Yiddish for a pretty girl) – takes the bewildered refugee under her wing. Not only do they help each other fill in the blanks of the past, they also create a present for themselves as unlikely roommates and partners in dealing with tyrannical Mordecai. Blonde, blue-eyed Bri Sudia’s vitality as Rose contrasts richly with Emily Berman’s dark and haunted Lusia.
A SHAYNA MAIDEL’s other characters – doting Mama, best friend Hanna, vanished husband Duvid – have less nuance. This viewer yearned for more, even from Mordecai who, although a formidable presence, never reckons significantly with his misguided decisions.
Sisters shine in TimeLine Theatre’s production
Some flashbacks heighten the drama. Lusia and Hanna’s fear of entering an abandoned home after liberation and emaciated Hanna’s nausea when she eats some food that was left behind are palpable. But other flashbacks strike this viewer as contrived or unnecessary. The small fragmented stage – divided between a bedroom, hallway, dining area, living room and kitchen – hampers the many shifts in time and place.
Despite the uneven storytelling, A SHAYNA MAIDEL delivers some deeply affecting moments. And anyone seeking a play in which sensitive women grapple with major issues will find substance in Rose and Lusia’s emerging relationship. Together, they make up for what their father has missed amid the bounty of America: taking two pieces of bread and relishing the sandwich of life.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Emily Berman (Lusia), Bri Sudia (Rose), Carin Schapiro Silkaitis (Mama), Alex Stein (Duvid), Charles Stransky (Mordechai), Sarah Wisterman (Hanna).
Barbara Lebow (playwright), Vanessa Stalling (director), Collette Pollard (set design), Samantha C. Jones (Costume Designer); Rachel K. Levy (Lighting Designer); Jeffrey Levin (Sound Designer and Composer), Hillarie M. Shockley (Properties Designer); Elise Kauzlaric (Dialect Designer), Sasha Smith (Intimacy Choreographer), Deborah Blumenthal (Dramaturg), Mary Zanger (Stage Manager)
Now through December 16
Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 4:00 & 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM
615 W. Wellington Ave.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows recently aired on BBC Radio 4.