You can see A Shayna Maidel this weekend at Alliance Theater, Friday May 26th (7:30pm) and Saturday May 27th, Matinee (2:30pm) and evening (7:30pm).
Review: ThreePenny Theatre’s ‘A Shayna Maidel’ a timely, powerful, must-see drama
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 23, 2023 (Gephardt Daily) — One thing I really do love about the Salt Lake theater scene is its passion. It’s wonderful to see excellent shows by established theater companies, and it’s also really great to discover a new company you are excited about. I’m a little late to the game, but I just caught my first show from ThreePenny Theatre Company, which was founded in 2019.
“A Shayna Maidel” (Yiddish for “A Pretty Girl”) is a powerful, poignant drama about two sisters trying to reconnect after years of separation during World War II. The play by Barbara Lebow opened at the Alliance Theater in Trolley Square May 19 and has three more shows this week; Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. It’s worth noting that it is a pay-what-you-can play, and all high school and junior high students can attend for free.
In New York City in 1946, a father and daughter have adapted to life as new Americans after escaping Poland before the Second World War. The daughter, Rose White, has even changed her name, from Rayzel Weiss. When they escaped, they were forced to leave behind Rose’s sister Lusia, who had scarlet fever, and the girls’ mother. When the war breaks out, mother and daughter cannot leave the country. Lusia initially does not mind being left behind because she can remain with her best friend Hanna and because she has fallen in love with a man named Duvid. When Rose and Lusia are eventually reunited, Rose tries to engage with an older sister who, having survived the horrors of Auschwitz, now seems a stranger. And Lusia, haunted by vivid memories of her past, struggles to connect with a sister and father she barely knows. The play explores the intricacies of family, faith, and forgiveness.
Written in 1984 and first produced in 1985, “A Shayna Maidel” has been widely produced by America’s leading regional theaters and became a long-running success Off-Broadway from 1987 to 1989. There is also a film adaptation of the play.
I will say that when I saw that the play was about, in part, Auschwitz and the Holocaust, I almost had second thoughts about attending as, especially as a British person, it’s a really hard subject to watch or think about. But honestly, with our current political climate, everyone should see this play and learn from it. Also, the author really focuses on the relationship between the characters, rather than going into graphic details about the horrors Lusia had to endure, which means we fill in the blanks in our own heads. Lusia does not want to talk about what she went through, so we can only imagine.
The performances, across the board, were absolutely lovely. Merry Magee, who plays Lusia, and Sam Torres, who plays Rose, are both names to watch in the Salt Lake theater scene. Both seem less to act and more to just be. Magee turns in a beautifully understated performance, and captures so many emotions with great subtlety and depth. We see the pain burning bright in her character’s eyes and the memories and nightmares that are etched onto her face.
And Torres is just a wonder. I’ve seen her in three pieces recently; Wasatch Theatre Company’s “Melancholy Play,” a reading of Morag Shepherd’s “The Big Quiet” for Pygmalion Theatre Company and now this show, and with apparently no effort at all, she transformed utterly for each. Of course, that is what actors do, but to see such complete metamorphosis into vastly different characters is quite a feat. As Rose, she has an ebullience and a love for all things pretty that she tempers when her sister comes to stay, out of sensitivity for what Lusia has been through. It’s as if the sisters are searching for similarities to each other, and are not sure how to handle the fact that they seem, initially, so different.
The supporting cast is solid too. Andrew Maizner plays the girls’ father as overbearing, stoic and rigid, but with enough tenderness that we feel sympathetic towards him, while Mira Kocherhans makes an impact in a small role as Hanna, Lusia’s friend from Poland. Nick Mathews as Duvid and Melody Baugh as the mother also do nice, subtle work.
If you have time this week, I would highly recommend “A Shayna Maidel.” It’s an important story, told in a gentle and extremely moving way, and there is hope at the conclusion of the piece. Tickets are available here.