Eavesdropping on Dreams

by Rivka Bekerman-Greenberg
Directed by Ronald Cohen
Featuring Lynn Cohen, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Aidan Koehler
Barefoot Theatre Company at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38  Commerce Street
April 29, 2012 — May 19, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 28, 2012

Lynn Cohen. Photo by Francisco Solorzano.

In Eavesdropping on Dreams we encounter devastating memories filtered through several generations of survivors portrayed by strong actors in sometimes moving sequences delivering the often stilted lines (and situations) crafted by a first time playwright who herself has experienced dimensions of her play.  Holocaust, single parenthood, high achieving women who have made their way through loveless relationships with others while finding their world in each other, reclaiming personal history. The themes resonate, the performances are for the most part quite moving, the play’s structure creaks under its unnecessarily complex layers. Lots of telling, not a lot of theatrically convincing emotions, though several of the performances are almost uniformly at a tense angry pitch.

Grandmother Rosa (the resonant Lynn Cohen) has been having nightmares of her life in the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz, relocation, life rebuilding in America.  Her life is dedicated to her physician daughter Renee (Stephanie Roth Haberle), her granddaughter Shaina (Aidan Koehler), and the memories of others in their pasts.  Fathers are absent (Renee’s father abandoned them — this is reported and never unpacked), and Shaina’s father is never part of her life (a married professor with whom Renee was involved during medical school).  There are dreams told by Rosa, filled with cobwebs (evoked literally like the laddered shadows in Hitchcock‘s psychoanalyst-infused storytelling in 1945’s Spellbound), and a few mysteries eventually unpacked. Our story is narrated for the most part by the ghost of Rosa’s brother the rabbi (Mike Shapiro), killed in the camps, who is a conduit to the truth of their family history being told.  When characters are willing to acknowledge and their pasts, they can see this relative/ghost — that kind of storytelling.  Granddaughter Shaina has traveled to Poland, visited the site of the ghetto, the camps, the old residences.  Mother Renee filters all her repressed emotions into sadomasochistic sexual games with strangers (we see one such engagement involving actor Christopher Whalen as a date — and at other moments an actual SS officer —  in its early stages but not the ultimate, um, performance), and angrily insists her daughter stop sifting around in the past.  And Rosa yields to Renee for a time, then combines forces with Shaina to allow the stories of the past to surface.

There are pieces of a play or a story are here.  The history of the Holocaust  must be told in as many ways as possible. Another play by a first time playwright produced by Theatre Three in Fall 2011, A Splintered Soul, inspired a number of similar questions for me.  In that case, a physician who grew up among survivors in San Francisco created a play involving a group of them — and a plot line of too many notes. The core of the conversations among the survivors rang true for me in that play  while subplots of spies and violence detracted. Here in Eavesdropping on Dreams, the many scene shifts and plot lines begun and left to drift (e.g. the granddaughter goes to meet her father and returns to report with a single line that he’s not interested in her) ask to be pared.  The three generations of female characters driving this story talking to one another in one 90 minute session, pressing for truth through final revelation, perhaps reflecting more precisely the kind of therapeutic real life dramas our Ph.D therapist new playwright has witnessed and lived herself, augmented by her own memories of early childhood in a post WWII relocation camp, could have more dramatic, theatrical power.  The challenge for this playwright is to hone. There are gems here.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 1, 2012)

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