Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Irena's Vow

Thomas Ryan as ‘Major Rugemer,’ Tovah Feldshuh as ‘Irena Gut Opdyke,’
and John Stanisci ‘Sturmbannfuhrer Rokita’ in Irena’s Vow.Review: Irena’s Vow
(Photos by CAROL ROSEGG)

An Amazing Circle of Faith Triumphs Over Evil

By Lauren Yarger
“What we do is who we are” and one woman’s vow to make a difference in the face of man’s inhumanity against man is the compelling plot of Dan Gordon’s play “Irena’s Vow” playing at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway.

Tovah Feldshuh, directed by Michael Parva, stars as Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who singlehandedly saved 12 Jews from death in the Nazi camps during World War II. In Gordon’s treatment of this true story, Irena, in her golden years, begins recounting her story to a group of school children. Times travels back to 1939 (accomplished through the use of costumes by Astrid Brucker, original music by Quentin Chaippetta and projections by Alex Koch amidst Kevin Judge’s set), where Feldshuh portrays the 18-year-old nursing student taken prisoner, raped by Russian soldiers and forced into labor in occupied Poland. Rumors soon abound that the Nazis are exterminating the Jews, and Irena is convinced after witnessing a mass murder, including the horrific killing of a baby in front of its mother. Unable to act or help, Irena vows never to stand by again.

A Nazi officer, Major Rugemer (Thomas Ryan) notices Irena and installs her as housekeeper in his home, where Irena hides 12 Jews in the basement. Three of them appear as characters in the drama: Lazar and Ida Hallar (Gene Silvers and Maja C. Wampuszyc, wonderfully moving in her Broadway debut) and Franka Silberman (Tracee Chimo). The group finds a hidden space that connects between the basement and the garden gazebo and stay hidden there even during dinner parties thrown for ranking Nazi officials like Sturmbannfuhrer Rokita (John Stanisci). To accomplish this, the Jews secretly help prepare the meals so extra help is not needed in the kitchen and Irena does some fancy juggling with the help of her friend Shultz (Steven Hauck) who, in a personification of the “don’t get involved” attitude, is willing to close a blind eye, but won’t take an active part to help the Jews.

Poignant moments about what it really means to be alive surface as the Jews struggle with having to “live like rats” and when Ida becomes pregnant. Gordon gives some terrific dialogue to Rokita who coldly and unaffectedly explains the systematic programming of the Jews for extinction. Where the script feels less realistic, however, are the frequent attempts at humor, often seeming out of place against the plot unfolding.
Gene Silvers as ‘Lazar Hallar,’ Maja Wampuszyc as ‘Ida Hallar,’
Tracee Chimo (kneeling) as ‘Fanka Silberman,’
and Tovah Feldshuh as ‘Irena .'
Irena’s hiding friends vote for safety and to abort the life of the Hallar child, whose cries would put them all in danger. Irena, opposed to abortion, fights for the child who eventually is born, a stunning testimony to life and hope amidst such evil and death.

Rugemer discovers the Jews in his house, but agrees to remain quiet when Irena becomes his mistress. The Poles despise her for becoming the mistress of a Nazi and danger mounts as officials receive reports that Jews are hiding in the house. Irena smuggles them out to the Allies who are invading as the war is drawing to a close. She then is interred as a collaborator since she had been the mistress of a Nazi officer. One of the Jews she hid frees her and she comes to the United States where she marries, has a daughter and “puts a do-not-disturb sign” on the memories of her past.

The circumstances of how she decides to tell her story and how she is reunited with loved ones is amazing and more than once brings a gasp from the audience as a full circle of forgiveness and faith’s ability to triumph over evil is revealed.

"God is always there," Irena tells us. Sometimes "we just need to listen a little harder."

An added bonus at the performance I attended was Irena’s real life daughter who appeared on stage to answer questions from the audience.

Irena’s Vow runs at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NY. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or visit http://irenasvow.com/. A movie version of the story is in the works.

1 comment:

Rich Swingle said...

The standing ovation after the performance I saw was the longest I can remember on Broadway.

When Irena's daughter spoke afterward, she told how she had no clue about her mother's life during the war until they got a call from a student who thought Jewish people invented the Holocaust to gain sympathy. The student wanted to know what Irena thought. He found out.

The show ends with Irena pointing out to us "school children" that we are the last generation who will hear from people who actually lived through the Holocaust.


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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