Although this solo performance by Naomi Newman in the title role is presented as a personal history, it is even more a history of European Jews in the 20th century. Playwright Martin Sherman has created a story that feels archetypal, and so one is more intellectually than emotionally stimulated, though there are moments that are undeniably heartbreaking. As we meet Rose she is 80 years old and sitting shiva (the Jewish ritual of mourning) for someone whose identity we don't learn until the play ends. Addressing the audience, she recounts her extraordinary life that began in a Ukrainian shtetl. Her story is peppered with dark humor, as when she says she had her first period and her first pogrom at the same time.
The playwright brings us on her journey, which takes her from the shtetl to the cultural life of Warsaw and then to the Warsaw ghetto. We are with her as she survives in a sewer after the ghetto's destruction, and we follow her to a displaced-persons camp and through her ill-fated sea voyage to Palestine on the ship called Exodus. We are still with her as she travels with her second husband to Atlantic City and finally winds up in Miami Beach. But Sherman loses us on a side trip with a lover 20 years her junior to a hippie commune in Connecticut where she smokes dope: The episode strains credulity, as does the section in which she attempts to conjure up the spirit of her first husband so he can possess her.
Newman, who must hold the audience's attention while she sits through most of her two-hour monologue, immerses herself totally in her role as she goes through a panoply of emotions with admirable commitment. She is particularly moving when her character remembers her little daughter, killed by an S.S. officer, and there is fire in Rose's phone conversation with her son in the play's last moments. The panorama of events encompassed by this tale speaks for innumerable lives touched or extinguished by the Holocaust.
Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Wed. 8 p.m. Jul. 16-Aug. 6. Sun. 7 p.m. only Jul. 27 & Aug. 24.) Jul. 5-Aug. 31. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com.