New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Eavesdropping on Dreams"
Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, Manhattan

The New York off-Broadway theater scene offers yet anther tale of Holocaust survivors and heirs. “Eavesdropping on Dreams” is now on the boards at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, a production of the Barefoot Theatre Company.

To dramatize, once again, the Holocaust legacy is indeed commendable. We are urged, rightly so, to tell the story again and again, enlightening upcoming generations. Awareness is everything in helping a future world avoid another Holocaust.

Playwright Rivka Bekerman-Greenberg has indeed taken on a worthy project. And the play does have the ring of truth, possibly autobiographical truth. Is this her own family history? But its message is weakened by confusion and burdened by repetition. Back to the drawing board, please, Ms. Bekerman-Greenberg.

What is the play’s theme? Namely, does one openly acknowledge one’s past history? Should one recall and deal with the past—or bury unbearable memories? Can one, in fact, ever truly bury these memories?

The play concentrates on three women—mother Rosa, daughter Renee, and granddaughter Shaina, each of whom deals with her own demons. Rosa lived through the Lodz ghetto (and possibly the death camps), Renee was born in a refugee camp, and Shaina is pure American. While the grandmother and granddaughter strive to deal with the past, Renee (now a respected doctor) will have none of it. Nevertheless Shaina (now a medical student) returns to Poland to visit the site of the former Lodz ghetto. She comes back to share photographs and discoveries with her beloved Bubby, her grandmother.

All three women interact with tension, anger, misunderstanding and love, which makes for good theater. But the story is confusing. Who were the fathers of the various babies? What became of the men? Why (and at whose hands) did one baby die? Though the men (relatives, Nazis and others) are ably played by Mike Shapiro and Christopher Whalen, their appearances leave us asking for further explanation. Furthermore, the playwright’s use of dreams, flashbacks, and changing roles also confuses and weakens the total effect.

Nor does the production itself serve the play well, despite the glowing presence of Lynn Cohen (playing Rosa). Though the entire cast of five are skilled players, both Aidan Koehler (Shaina) and Stephanie Roth Haberle (Renee) constantly go over the top, offering little variation in tone. Each, alas, gives a one-note performance. Both are clearly capable of better work and should have had better direction from director Ronald Cohen. Only Lynn Cohen offers a more nuanced, quieter performance, allowing for a build-up to a climax and final resolution.

In all, “Eavesdropping on Dreams” deserves to be a better play, given the importance of the subject matter. Hopefully Bekerman-Greenberg will cut back on repeated information, which does nothing for dramatic effect, and work to clarify the story.

--Irene Backalenick
April 30, 2012

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