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A CurtainUp Review
Enemies, A Love Story

History is controlling me — Herman (as he rushes off to another woman)
Sarah Schulman's stage adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel of Holocaust survivors is in World Premiere at the Wilma Theater. Singer once said, "I think that the whole of human history is one big holocaust." Enemies, A Love Story concerns a specific segment of that whole, a small, mixed representative group of Jewish people who survived the Holocaust and moved to New York City. The central character, Herman (Morgan Spector), could be described as the marrying kind. Already at the outset he has two women, an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both complaining.

The set up, which may be fine for a novel, is slow for the stage. The play wants more humor and passion, and times it languishes in melodrama. Many scenes end with statements like this one, "It's not our fault the world fell to pieces." I very nearly left at intermission, wondering how you say turkey in Yiddish. However, I stayed, and things looked hopeful as complications ensued in Act 2. An intriguing new character played by Bob Ari arrives to shake things up.

Not simplistic, the play portrays varying responses to harrowing experience. Some characters are scarred and condemned by the past, by fate, or by their own inclination to repeat mistakes. Other characters, ready to assimilate, can adapt and move on with their lives. Fred (Tom Teti), the Rabbi/TV repairman is one such character. And another more significant character eventually will be able to change.

The portrayal of the demanding, manic harridan, Masha, is rather heavy handed. The fact that she is not intended to be likeable need not mean that Elizabeth Rich must declaim her lines. As Herman's biddable, dedicated and unloved wife, Yadwiga, Kati Brazda does as good a job as the script allows. Tamar, a shell of a person, is played by Laura Flanagan. There's a fragmentary quality to her character, who can live better in the world of a novel rather than on the stage where she must be externalized.

One expects a good deal of questioning about God in a Singer story. He once said, "I think we can admire God, admire his wisdom, and at the same time protest his so-called neutrality." And "I believe in free will. I have no choice." Sentiments like these, full of intelligence and warm humor, ground his work. In this adaptation Rabbi Fred's is the typical Jewish-humor role. While mildly entertaining it doesn't always work. Could it be the timing of the whole production? Fred has some of the best insights, though. He sees Herman's brief flirtation with believing in God as an attempt to take a shortcut to decency.

David P. Gordon's set amply serves the varied needs of the production. A complicated marvel of stage design, it is a conglomeration of metaphor and tenement apartments. However, the cool-looking, huge fragment of Coney Island's Cyclone ride doesn't succeed in unifying the stage visually, as it should. Forsyth's lighting design, even more complex than the set, truly is a wonder to behold.

Much like life, this is a bedroom comedy laid on top of deep issues, which are not truly explored. There's love-- requited and un, obsession, fate, pointed observations, music, and finally some small sense of how the Holocaust affected and in some cases destroyed people. Unfortunately, much of the Singer charm doesn't survive. His writing is laced with philosophy and humor, Schulman's less so. Enemies, A Love Story just doesn't hold up sufficiently as a play. In the end it doesn't satisfy, perhaps not because Schulman couldn't handle the material, but simply because the way of telling this story is more compelling and graceful as prose.

Enemies, A Love Story
From the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Adapted for the stage by Sarah Schulman
Directed by Jiri Zizka
Cast: Bob Ari, Kati Brazda, Laura Flanagan, Elizabeth Rich, Morgan Spector, Barbara Spiegel, Tom Teti
Set Design: David P. Gordon
Lighting Design: Jerold R. Forsyth
Sound Design: Jorge Cousineau
Costume Design: Janus Stefanowicz
The Wilma Theater, Avenue of the Arts Running time approximately 1 hour and 45 mins with one 15 min intermission 02/07/07-03/11/07; opening 02/14/07

Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 02/16 performance
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