Clyde Derrick's new play is a testament to the shame of a society forced into breakdown mode in Poland by the 1939 German invasion. Although, characteristically, the Jews are the ones with their feet held to the fire by Hitler, the ambient temperature is rising for most of the indigenous population. Countess Klara Sobieska (an elegantly arrogant Elizabeth A. Hillman), left holding the family fort while her Count (Graham Barnard) goes underground with the Resistance, finds herself at the mercy of Nazi invaders, led by a pompous führer-in-training, Captain Erich von Tempelhoff (Dennis Baker), who aims to take down everyone in his path, especially the lubricious Countess. The lady finds herself unwillingly reacting positively to the Captain's smarmy attention, until the secret in her closet reveals itself. Sharing space with the sometimes ululating ghost of her father is Shlomo (Ralph Lister), the Count's tailor, a devout Jew, whose family has been "disappeared." The Countess' house arrest and the tailor's retreat into hiding fall into that time before Yom Kippur when repentance, or spiritual return—in Hebrew, "teshuvah"—is called for. They believe their tribulations are penitence for their sins, calling for confessions and retribution.
These elements could have sustained the play, but Derrick has pulled in irrelevant elements: a trio of yobbo townsfolk; a dead gay brother for Shlomo, followed by the Countess' realization of her father's homosexuality; specious discussions between the Countess and the Captain about love and aristocracy; slobbering horseplay from the soldiers; and the mournful songs—traditional or written by Derrick—sung by the vanished Count and Shlomo's murdered wife (Dana Lyn Baron), who drift through the ether. The distasteful byplay among the liberal Countess, the doctrinaire Nazi, and the distraught tailor seems miscalculated and staged, failing to tug at the emotions as a Holocaust-era play must.
Director Wendy Gough pays attention to the details (good lighting and set design by John Lant) and is well-served by a dedicated cast but is hampered by the sometimes vapid dialogue and the unlikeliness of the setup. Derrick's earnest play never quite touches the heart of its subject matter.
"Teshuvah," presented by and at Write Act Theatre, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. Mon.-Tue. 8 p.m. Nov. 29-Jan. 25. (Dark Dec. 15-Jan. 9.) $12-15. (323) 860-8894.