Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 4, 2019

Review: Playhouse on Park, A Shayna Maidel

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through November 17, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Meredith Longo
“A pretty [little] girl. A pretty one”:  this is a Shayna Maidel. Wikipedia’s succinct definition states that it is most often used by bubies for their own granddaughters. In the case of this play, two shayna maidels, in essence strangers -- one in America and one in Poland -- create a warmth, camaraderie, and family in post-WWII New York City.

Sisters, worlds apart, literally and figuratively, Americanized Rose and immigrant Lusia meet as adults in 1946. As Rose has made a conscious commitment to assimilate, Lusia has taken her first hesitant steps as an immigrant into the United States. Circumstances of the War have shaped these young women with completely different temperaments, goals, and comportment. Lusia and Mama remained in the old country. Rose and Papa crossed the ocean. The audience watches and cares about the growing connection between Rose and Lusia. Yet, an underlying plot, focusing on Papa, is unexpected and disturbing.

Laura Sudduth (Rose) portrays a sprite Shayna maidel, eager to become a part of her family’s story. Sudduth throws her dialog and whole body into her character. She is the one to watch in every scene, even when Rose is in the background. Sudduth’s Rose playfully and nervously dashes around the apartment setting.

Katharina Schmidt (Lusia) takes on a more demanding role. Schmidt’s Lusia cowers, standing in one corner of the room. Schmidt shines in her hesitant yet impatience to speak English. Never missing a stumbled word, it is the actor’s tremendous skill to keep an accent going. The audience also sees glimpses of Lusia’s playful side in memories of her husband. Both Rose and Lusia are three-dimensional characters, each a Shayna maidel.

Four additional actors fill out the roles, each character. In a pivotal role is Mitch Greenberg as Papa. He has few lines, but those that he does have are vital, yet tossed out capriciously. A director’s or actor’s choice isn’t important for this review. A recommendation would be to punch up the dialog in these moments of discovery.

“A Shayna Maidel” is a beautiful story by Barbara Lebow written with love, about love. However, the key flaw in the script and the production is the length. Shakespeare’s classics are chopped all the time. Ms. Lebow’s play or Dawn Loveland Navarro’s direction cries out for scissors for entire scenes or portions of scenes; i.e. Papa’s birth in Act I, the sisters’ picnic song, Lusia’s friend’s Hannah chatting with Mama, and more. There is still time in the run of the play to cross out pages. “A Shayna Maidel” is a beautiful story that could easily be a beautiful SHORTER story.