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A CurtainUp Review
Five Women Waiting
We're all free to choose how we reenter the life of the living.
--- Eleni
5 Women Waiting Cast
(rear) Dawn Denvir,
Mimi Wyche, Christy Collier
(front) Erma Duricko,
Franca Barchiesi
The program tags Five Women Waiting as "a new comic drama." Michel Wallerstein has indeed interspersed his story of five women concentration camp survivors with enough comic touches to substantiate this tag line. However, a drama about people who survived the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, is essentially tragic and in this instance we have a double tragedy: the tragedy of the pain and losses endured and the pain of living the life of a survivor with its ever festering wounds.

The play is structured as a two-tiered flashback with five scenes: three in a New York hospital hallway in 1988, the play's present. . . one going back to 1948 and the Stockholm hospital nurses' quarters where the women have met and bonded. . .  one jump to 1970 and the Tel Aviv apartment of one of the women, a critical midway point of their interconnected stories. It takes considerable ingenuity to create three distinct locales on what may be the most miniscule stage in New York, but director Andrew Frank and his set designer Maruti Evans have done a reasonable job. What the production lacks in sophistication is offset by the closeness between audience and stage. It's almost like watching the play in someone's living room instead of a theater.

The women the playwright has conjured up to explore his theme of how to live one's life after a monumental trauma such as the Holocaust are an interesting mix, diverse in ages as well as backgrounds. They meet the challenge of reentering a normal life with varying degrees of success. Pola (Franca Barchiesi) and Hanna (Christy Collier) are the group's catalysts. During the 1948 flashback to Stockholm where the women all work as nurses, Pola sets the women's separation in motion with her decision to move to Israel and become part of a new society where what happened to the Jews can never happen again. During the fourth scene, and the play's best, her wedding (a second marriage) prompts a reunion that causes what promises to be an irreconcilable rift. Hanna, the fragile youngest member, the one whose solution to dealing with the past is to erase it (even to keeping her background from her American husband), becomes the catalyst for a final reunion by way of a fatal illness. Eleni (Erma Duricko), the group's peacemaker, returns to Athens to work in the family bakery while Miriam (Dawn Denvir) lives a life of quiet discontent in Switzerland with a sister who is married to a banker. Ingrid (Mimi Wyche), a German whose loyalty to her Jewish husband landed her in the camps, is the group's sardonic glamour girl who finds a second love with an American Hollywood tycoon.

Franca Barchiesi is well cast as the embittered Pola, as are Erma Duricko as the conciliatory Eleni and Dawn Denvir as the at once fragile and scrappy Miriam. Mimi Wyche provides most of the humor as the high living Ingrid. Christy Collier, a newcomer to the stage also has the most problematic role, as the truth-denying Hanna.

While the first act often sputters along, the play takes off after the intermission and ultimately adds up to a well-spent two hours. Five Women Waiting is as much about the bonds of friendship as the tragedy that tied this particular five-way friendship knot. While these women can never really forget their past and eradicate the wounds it inflicted -- they can forget and forgive wounds inflicted on each other.

Five Women Waiting
Playwright: Michel Wallerstein
Directed by Andrew Frank
Cast: Christie Collier, Dawn Denvir, Franca Barchiesi, Mimi Wyche, Erma Duricko
Set Design: Maruti Evans
Costume Design: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter & Andrew Frank
Sound Design: Andrew Bellware
Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission
Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 Macdougal St. (Waverly/8th St.) 212-501-2751,
3/14/02-4/07/02; opening 3/17/02
Thu - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 1pm -- $15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 16th press performance.
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