Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

A Shayna Maidel
Playhouse on Park
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Cry It Out

Katharina Schmidt and Laura Sudduth
Photo by Meredith Longo
Playhouse on Park is currently presenting a powerful and moving production of Barbara Lebow's play, A Shayna Maidel. Focusing on a Jewish family reuniting in New York City in March 1946, the play is extremely emotional. When it begins, Luisa, who has survived the Holocaust, comes to join her younger sister Rose and her father, both of whom avoided the concentration camps because they traveled to America before the war.

Thrown together after so many years, the sisters are almost strangers to each other, and Katharina Schmidt, as Luisa, and Laura Sudduth, as Rose, give sensitive and touching performances. A Shayna Maidel is actually superbly cast, with excellent direction by Dawn Loveland Navarro. And the beautiful scenic design, by David Lewis, features various rooms in Rose's posh New York apartment and the setting couldn't be more inviting.

Still, there is a great deal of tension in A Shayna Maidel and what may seem to be, on the surface, a relatively simple reunion is filled with unexpressed and unexpected emotions and recriminations. Those emotions slowly rise during the play's two acts, with the entire cast really delving into their roles. And, while a feeling of overlength may be felt, A Shayna Maidel is ultimately a real triumph of the spirit, which can leave the audience as overwhelmed and devastated as the characters in the play.

In addition to having a linear story, A Shayna Maidel is punctuated by dreamlike sequences and Luisa's memories which are enacted in brief and often painful scenes. Even within the shiny and modernized environment of Rose's apartment, the Holocaust hangs over the play, as well as the reality of those in the family who survived it and those who did not. A Shayna Maidel also includes humor and familiar attachments which make it a deeply satisfying experience.

Katharina Schmidt is a revelation as Luisa, and if there is a central role in A Shayna Maidel, it would be this character. Schmidt is able to display a wide range of feelings, often without saying a word. In her own way, Laura Sudduth as Rose is just as good as her costar. These sisters, at the outset, seem almost like aliens to each other, with no small amount of guilt on Rose's part that she had it so much better than Luisa. It is the journey these two make to truly come together that endows this play with so much power. Sudduth is wonderful in her scenes opposite Schmidt, which give the play its real heart.

Mitch Greenberg gives a penetrating and multi-layered portrayal as their father Mordechai, a man who is not accustomed to showing his emotions. And, as characters who exist mostly in Luisa's memory, Krista Lucas is heartbreaking as the girls' mother and Julia Tolchin brings a sense of joy to her scenes as Hanna, Luisa's best friend during the war. Particularly outstanding is Alex Rafala as Duvid, Luisa's husband, who was separated from her during the Holocaust and whom Luisa spends the entire play searching for.

The production also shines in the terrific, period-perfect costumes by Lisa Steier and Marcus Abbott's fine lighting design, which can change the mood of a scene in the blink of an eye. Everything comes together quite well in A Shayna Maidel at Playhouse on Park. The show is filled with memorable moments and sequences, with the feeling of family apparent and truly significant throughout the show. The journey the characters take is not an easy one, but it makes for richly rewarding theatre.

A Shayna Maidel runs through November 17, 2019, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please visit or call the box office at 860-523-5900.