Sunday, June 7, 2009

THEATER: "Irena's Vow" on Broadway (Review)

One Woman. Twelve Lives. Only One Choice
Irena’s Vow Opens on Broadway
by Staś Kmieć

[Editor's note: the Off-Broadway production of Irena’s Vow was fully reviewed in PAJ’s November issue]

Irena's Vow, a riveting play of a Polish Catholic woman's story of risk and salvation and the lives that hang in the balance of her conscience, transferred to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre from its Off-Broadway sold-out engagement.

With enhanced production values and cohesive harmony, this fine-tuned production surpasses the original incarnation with emotional depth and shading. This is a play that every Pole should experience.

Framed as a flashback, Irena re-experiences the harrowing ordeal of WWII Poland and the hiding of Jews during the Holocaust, while in servitude under a high-ranking German officer. Tovah Feldshuh brings a tour-de-force performance to her detailed portrayal, and it is her acting prowess that makes her transformation to the young Irena theatrically plausible. Her work transcends the script and anchors the production.

Dan Gordon's script is uneven, and at times melodramatic and heavy handed, but the moments of searing emotion still elicit tears, even upon second viewing. His powerful account is gripping. Despite the serious subject matter, there a several humorous moments of relief.

For practical purposes, only three of the Jews in hiding are introduced, and they have been further developed and nuanced. Maja Wampuszyc (Ida Hallar) and Tracee Chimo (Fanka Silberman) bring a deep realism of desperation and optimism to their work that cuts into the viewer's soul. There is more subtlety of character, dimension and backbone.

Thomas Ryan (Major Rugemer) has taken full control bringing subtleties and greater depth to his role. Sandi Carroll brings a touching urgency to her character Helen’s plight as the Catholic with a Jewish husband. The solid cast is completed by noteworthy moments by Steven Hauck (the silent, yet knowing Schultz), Gene Silvers (Lazar Hallar), and the John Stanisci as the fierce and understated Sturmbannführer Rokita.

Quentin Chiappetta's sound design is appropriate and unobtrusively chilling; Kevin Judge's stark set has evolved to include important cultural accents; and Astrid Brucker's authentic costumes, David Castaneda's evocative lighting, and Alex Koch's enhanced projection design contribute notably to the collaboration.

Until the end of May, at play's conclusion, Irena's daughter, Janina appeared on stage to answer questions, and offer fascinating insight about her mother.

With solid direction by Michael Parva, the play moves quickly and efficiently through the 90 minutes without intermission. If you are planning a trip to New York – go see this play.

Irena's Vow has an open-ended run at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.

Note: Hollywood has already optioned the play for a feature film and Scarlett Johansson is being considered for the role of "Young Irena."