7 - March 24 2002
is one of those moments we who go to the theater live for."
are outstanding performances from two Equity performers Marji Dodrill
as Bracha and Annie Kitral as Ann. Both provide many brilliant moments."
Interview" is at once a powerful documentation of a horrific historical
event and one artist's deeply felt response to it. On both levels, it
resonates. The production, under Tom Fulton's sensitive direction and
a top-notch ensemble, takes it even higher."
Plain Dealer - 3/12/02
For more than a few moments in Beachwood writer Faye Sholiton's newest play, "The Interview," tears cannot be stayed from even the most cynical viewer's eyes. More to Sholiton's credit, it is impossible to say if they are from joy or sorrow.
The stories and memories the two central characters share over the course of the 135-minute play, which premiered over the weekend at Halle Theatre in Cleveland Heights, range from bitter to painful.
But that the women are able to recall them, tell them, own them and pass them along is a gift of courage and humanity.
Since the death of her husband, Bracha Weissman (played by Marji Dodrill with dignity and grace) has transformed her home in Beachwood into a fortress. She bluntly tells a guest, "I don't like guests."
Likewise, she has transformed herself into a emotional stone wall. She cannot come to terms with the ancestors who died in the Nazi death camps she miraculously survived. Nor can she communicate with her daughter, who has grown up and away from her mother's harsh judgment of herself and those around her.
But Bracha's armor eventually begins to crack when a local historian, Ann Meshenberg (Anna Kitral, who deftly vacillates between strength and helplessness) appears on her snowy doorstep one January day in 1995 to interview her for a project on Holocaust survivors.
It turns out that Ann, who is the daughter of other Nazi victims, has her own anger issues simmering just below her cigarette habit. The two women connect in a way that elevates the situation above the cliche a lesser playwright might have settled for.
While Bracha does not speak with her daughter, Rifka, she does converse with a vision she has of her grown child. The device used by director Tom Fulton to seamlessly conjure that vision - an actress (beseeching Kathryn Wolfe Sebo) appearing like a ghost behind a black upstage scrim - brings the messy outside world into Bracha's carefully arranged living room.
It's a small thing, "The Interview," an intimate play born out of a journalism/history project Sholiton was involved with seven years ago. And the playwright once or twice resorts to lowest-common-denominator melodramatic tactics.
But it grows on you and manages to blossom into a story of mothers and daughters, parents and children, forgiving and being forgiven.
Near the end, Bracha has one more encounter, with a 19-year-old videographer assisting Ann with her history project (Michael C. Roache, part goof, part earnest young man). In a gesture that recalls a small event just after she liberated herself from Auschwitz, he offers her something to eat.
We in the audience don't see the morsel he unwraps; we don't need to. We already know what it is from Bracha's story. This is one of those moments with tears. It is one of those moments we who go to the theater live for.
Contact Tony Brown at
Theatre Review: The Cleveland Free Times:
Historian Ann Meshenberg doesnt know what shell find when she enters the Beachwood home of Holocaust survivor Bracha Weissman. She nervously douses her cigarette, takes a hit of Binaca, and crosses into the forced tranquility Beethoven on the stereo and rigid order of the steely, rugula-wielding warriors lair. Anns purpose is to record video testimony of what Bracha experienced and witnessed as a persecuted Jew in Hitlers Germany. What she achieves, unsurprisingly but not predictably, is an opportunity to forever close the door on her own struggle as a child of survivors, a horrible pain she holds that has withered, but never completely died.
The first act of local playwright Faye Sholitons The Interview expends about a half an hour on a straightforward Q and A between these two characters, which effectively serves its expository purpose and establishes the dynamic between the women, but possibly goes on for about 10 minutes too long. However, the device/introduction of Brachas daughter Rifka (who can be heard by Bracha but not Ann), successfully alters the plays structure before it becomes too static. A few changes in the tempo or texture of act one would help it serve as an even more successful prelude to a nearly perfect, joyously heart-rending second act.
There are outstanding performances from two Equity performers Marji Dodrill as Bracha and Annie Kitral as Ann. Both provide many brilliant moments. The first time Dodrill as Bracha speaks specifically of her time in Auschwitz, the expression in her eyes is so powerfully evocative of the horrors there, that the images one takes away from the moment are almost as vivid as the most graphic Holocaust photographs. Also turning in a fine performance is Kathryn Wolfe Sebo in the difficult role of Rifka its easy for audiences to grow quickly impatient with this type of character, the bitter victim of parental abuse who one thinks perhaps should have been able to move on already. Sebos griping never becomes grating.
Towards the end of the second act, the focus shifts to Kitrals character; Ann is able to finally root out and release the hatred she held on to for so many years, hatred she felt toward Hitler, toward her family, toward God. When this cathartic moment first begins, with Bracha now stepping into the role of facilitator, it feels like it might be a contrivance, something we might see on Oprah; but somehow, before the scene is over, Sholiton has masterfully molded the exchange into one of the plays most beautiful.
Because for many, images of the Holocaust are so deeply and horrifically ingrained, Sholitons decision to focus primarily on the echoing effects faced by children of survivors seems compassionate in its understatement, with an added advantage of offering resonance for younger audiences. Rifka leaves a note explaining her need to separate herself from her mothers frozen rage, and even as she lashes out at her formidable parent, she expresses faith that a healing can follow: "Hitlers claimed enough lives, hes not going to get mine call me when you understand."
Sholiton makes an interesting point in the program notes for The Interview, a point perhaps directed at people who might shy away from attending plays with subject matter too far outside of their personal histories or spiritual/ethnic identities. Viewers who saw earlier, workshopped productions of Sholitons play have found meaning beyond the literal and obvious theme of transcending nightmares of the Holocaust in order to let in enough light to nurture future generations. A Dayton audience member thought the play was actually about living with alcoholics; someone seeing the play in Boston thought it was about surviving child abuse. In her notes, Sholiton goes on to make the point that her play is really about "all those homes where people cant talk about something; because the result is, they cant really talk about anything."
"We awakened a lot of memories," the interviewer tells her subject, a Holocaust survivor.
"They were never asleep," the survivor replies without skipping a beat.
Memory, silence and the baggage each claim are at the heart of Clevelander Faye Sholiton's pointed and poignant drama, "The Interview," at the Jewish Community Center of Cleveland's Halle Theatre through March 24.
A story about mothers and daughters and the legacy of human suffering, "The Interview" is at once a powerful documentation of a horrific historical event and one artist's deeply felt response to it. On both levels, it resonates. The production, under Tom Fulton's sensitive direction and a top-notch ensemble, takes it even higher.
We first meet Holocaust survivor Bracha Weissman in the tastefully appointed living room of her Beachwood home as she nervously prepares for the interview she has agreed to do for the Western Reserve Oral History Project. A yahrzeit (memorial) candle burns in the foreground while a shadowy figure with its back to the audience plays a few bars from "The Moonlight Sonata."
The doorbell rings. It is the interviewer, Ann Meshenberg, herself a daughter of survivors who, unbeknownst to Bracha, is about to conduct her first interview. But not before Bracha, an immaculate housekeeper, has insisted that Ann replace her snowy boots with a pair of hard-to-navigate slippers. (Bracha also chases crumbs with a Dust Buster.) It provides a moment of levity before the interview begins in earnest and Bracha starts peeling away the layers of her tortured past.
Ann hopes that through Bracha she can break the silence surrounding her own troubled history.
Conducted over a period of two days, the emotionally charged interview process becomes the means through which each woman helps the other confront her demons. Only by facing the past can one move beyond it, letting the healing and forgiveness begin.
The Holocaust as subject matter is by its very nature intense, and there are times when the dialogue has the ring of a confessional. What keeps it from becoming too heavy-handed and contrived is the strong undercurrent of humor that ripples throughout and snippets of language both pungent and lyrical.
Bracha's recollection of eating a candy bar (including the wrapper) given to her by a GI after liberation creates a powerful image of a starving survivor. Later, in describing how she meets her future husband at a DP camp, Bracha deadpans, "Hitler was some matchmaker." The tattoo on her arm is ironically referred to as "the only scar you see."
The interviewer's presence summons thoughts of her daughter Rifka for Bracha. Bracha is estranged from Rifka, who lives in Los Angeles and appears intermittently, but only in her mother's mind. Because Rifka is seen as an actual person in the play, yet is only visible to Bracha in her imagination, that device at times both confuses and distracts from the conversation between Ann and Bracha.
In the first act, Bracha is forced to come to terms with her memories and her hostile daughter; in the second, Ann faces her buried feelings.
The regal-looking Marji Dodrill is excellent as the strong-willed Bracha, whose sardonic sense of humor and resilient exterior hide a life of pain, guilt and suffering for having survived. As Bracha visibly retreats into memory, Dodrill's far-away look suggests an aching vulnerability beneath the toughness.
Anna Kitral is equally outstanding as the needy and apologetic Ann Meshenberg, whose outward sweet compliance masks a fury as explosive as Rifka's. When Bracha helps Ann unburden, her elegy of anger erupts like a lava flow.
Kathryn Wolfe Sebo is a cauldron of resentment as Rifka, the overachieving daughter who wanted a mother without her history and ran as far from home as possible to escape both. An ingenuous Michael C. Roache plays the young videographer, Chris McDonald, whose youthful exuberance and empathy give Bracha courage and purpose.
Tony E. Kovacic's bifurcated set suggests a jagged-edged photograph ripped in two and divided by a black canvas where memory plays itself out in the form of Rifka and family photographs. As Bracha and Ann sift through the family album, pictures are flashed on the backdrop, as if the audience were peering over their shoulders. It is a nice touch.
Alison Hernan's costumes, Casey Jones' sound, and Michael J. Simons' lighting heighten the realism.
Sholiton drew inspiration for her play from her real-life experiences as a long-standing journalist and interviewer of Holocaust survivors for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. "The Interview," Sholiton's first play, was awarded first prize in three national new-play competitions and has received numerous staged readings and amateur productions throughout the U.S. This is its first Equity production.
The Beachwood playwright is currently working on a play commissioned by the JCC Halle Theatre in memory of Olympic athlete and Cleveland native David Berger.
More than a
play about the Holocaust, "The Interview" is about breaking
the destructive cycle of guilt and blame that is passed from one generation
to the next. Throughout the production, you could hear a pin drop and,
at the close, the stifling of choked whispers and sobs was audible.
by Kris Ferencie, Set Design by Tony Kovacik, Lighting by Mike Simmons,
Costumes by Allison Hernan, Sound by Casey Jones, Props by Kathy Kovacik.