New York City Theater
Walter Kerr Theater
“I was 18 when the Russians invaded,” the Polish-born Irena Gut Opdyke tells an American high school class, telling of how she was beaten and raped, then sent to Germany. Finding employment in the service of a high ranking SS officer, she hid Jews in the basement, obviously a daring act that could have caused her own death. By wits and guts, she managed to balance duties with beliefs.
That’s the true story of “Irena’s Vow,” the facile but absorbing account of life under the Nazi boot. “If I have a chance to save a life, I would do it,” she vows after witnessing the killing of a mother and her baby in the town square. “It’s not to survive – we’ve got to live.” Thus, she chooses to preserve life over death, perhaps the only way that death can be if not conquered, then comprehended.
In the title role, Tovah Feldshuh works hard, portraying not only the heroine but various other characters, including Nazi officers, with fierce commitment. Despite Michael Parva's fluid direction, most of the other characters are ill-defined, except for SS officer Schultz, played with a winning combination of solicitude and strength by Steven Hauck.
Though more lesson than drama, the episodic but gripping “Irena’s Vow” tells us that the wonder and tragedy of the human condition is not that we can win, but that we can struggle. The uplift is palpable.
David A. Rosenberg
April 19, 2009