Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Soap MythNational Tour
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Mamma Mia!, The Cake, and As You Like It

Ed Asner and Tovah Feldshuh
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For several years now, Jeff Cohen's play The Soap Myth has pulled together a collection of outstanding actors and actresses and hit the road with a bare bones presentation, brought to our area by The Florida Holocaust Museum this week for two performances, one in Tampa, the second at Sarasota Opera House. A program note informs that, "A work of fiction, The Soap Myth is based on real people and real events, as well as an article in Moment Magazine about Holocaust survivor Morris Spitzer." Costumes are approximated from personal wardrobes, music stands are present, and scripts are visible. Still, this documentary play makes its very important points about history and the Holocaust.

The story revolves around Milton Saltzman, here played by Ed Asner, a survivor of the horrors who remembers the Nazis making soap from human body fat and wants that enshrined in a Holocaust Museum. The directors decline, claiming the evidence is inconclusive. They believe there were small scale experiments around this idea but remain unsure whether the concept went into major production. Milton's beliefs are supported by Annie Blumberg, a reporter. All of this gives us the opportunity to examine many issues, including Holocaust deniers, how best to preserve uncomfortable history, and so much more. Mr. Cohen, who travels with this year's company, has written an important play. During and after I was reminded of a play seen a few months ago, Cherry Docs, about skinheads and Neo-Nazism's rise, which I felt to be a far less accurate examination of overlapping issues.

Mr. Asner, 89 and somewhat frail, is still a legendary presence. The chance to see him live would be reason enough to attend The Soap Myth. Liba Vaynberg plays Annie and brings a great deal of nuance to the role, aided by the fine writing. Respected character actor Ned Eisenberg plays multiple roles, including a comic, the head of the Holocaust Museum, and several Germans from the historical era. Tovah Feldshuh plays the other director of the museum and later a holocaust semi-denier. The character believes the numbers are greatly exaggerated as are the horrors inflicted. I am a great champion for the local arts community and believe we have many fine actors and actresses who make the area their home, but the quality of the acting seen in this play was on a totally different level.

After a talkback, Mr. Asner was presented "The 2019 Loebenberg Humanitarian Award." I have been aware of the incredible resume Ed Asner has accumulated away from acting, including many years as President of Screen Actors Guild. No matter what I knew, the list of accomplishments was inspiring, jaw dropping. He seemed truly moved, maybe surprised as well, to receive the award. I doubt it could have been bestowed on a more deserving person.

It was altogether a memorable night, as I suspected it would be. The tour continues to Delaware and Hartford, Connecticut, then several dates in the Midwest. If it happens to come near you, it is highly recommended.

The Soap Myth, April 16, 2019, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL.

Cast (in speaking order): Annie Blumberg: Liba Vaynberg
Comic: Ned Eisenberg
Milton Saltzman: Ed Asner
Esther Feinman: Tovah Feldshuh
Daniel Silver: Ned Eisenberg
Colonel Smirnov/Sigmund Nazur/Corporal Neely: Ned Eisenberg
Brenda Goodsen: Tovah Feldshuh