Respect. It's a basic need of civilization. It's also an essential element of acting. Have respect for your subject matter, for your audience, and perhaps most important for the study and hard work great actors put into the profession. And then your audience will respect you.
Estherleon appears in this one-woman show, written for her and directed by Ivor Pyres, about her life, from birth in Nazi Germany through the present, an obviously interesting tale. But a near total absence of acting skills mar the storytelling, and her singing voice—although she bills herself as a cantor—is far from proficient. In addition, layers of blame—her mother seemed to despise her—and vows of "undoing what was done" turn the evening into a session of public therapy.
Long pauses between lines, long "moments" of weeping and praying and looking at photos, a nervous throat clearing every time she steps backstage and sometimes onstage—all are marks of lack of craft. Oddly, her mother is the most clearly rendered character; Estherleon so reveres her father that she dares not re-create him.
And finally, although it's no reason to steer an audience away from this production, the politics are, at least to this reviewer, shocking. That a Holocaust survivor could pilgrimage to Rome on Good Friday to participate in the Stations of the Cross, calling for "Papa" along with the crowd, will at least provoke conversation. And Estherleon begs it of the audience after her final bow. "Ask me anything you want," she pleads, remaining onstage as the house lights rise. We try not to, out of respect for theatre in general and for her apparently heartfelt efforts in particular. But in answer to her request, a cosmic "why?" hangs in the air.
Presented by and at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Tue.-Wed. 8 p.m. Nov. 29-Jan. 31. (323) 651-1878. www.estherleon.com.