However, in the hands of its five fine actors, the play is gripping. The performers inhabit their characters with incisive truthfulness as they trek through the work’s complex psychological terrain. Most intriguing is Stephanie Roth Haberle’s multifaceted portrayal of Renee, whose mother, Rosa, survived four-and-a-half years in a Jewish ghetto in Poland. Renee is plagued by nightmares in which she relives the torturous events her mother underwent there. By day she maintains a successful career as an obstetrician, but at night she engages in sick and dangerous behavior, soliciting sex from strange men with whom she role-plays scenarios of being dominated by a Nazi. Devoted to protecting her daughter, Shaina, from the psychologically ruinous effects of the past, Renee shields the young woman from the gruesome knowledge of their family history. Robbed of a sense of self, the confused Shaina, rendered with contagious enthusiasm by Aidan Koehler, attempts to draw the truth out of Rosa. Lynn Cohen’s unerring depiction of Shaina’s strong, secretive grandmother grounds the production with an unsettling authenticity. As the ghost of Rosa’s dead brother, Mike Shapiro snares our attention and holds it admirably through long pedantic speeches, seemingly designed to bring young audiences up to speed on the facts of Holocaust history.
The production is boldly directed by Ronald Cohen in a warm, open, abundantly emotional style that stays just short of overwrought. The only misfire is Niluka Hotaling’s set. The story takes place in various locales—a bar, a hospital, and apartments—in 2004 New York City, but it is played against a unit set that depicts the rustic family room of what looks like a log cabin. Go figure.
Presented by Barefoot Theatre Company at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC. April 29–May 19. Wed.–Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Additional performance: Tues. May 15, 7 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.barefoottheatrecompany.org. Casting by Judy Keller Casting.