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"Irena's Vow", Starring Tovah Feldshuh, at Baruch Performing Arts Center
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"Irena's Vow", Starring Tovah Feldshuh, at Baruch Performing Arts Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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The Director’s Company, Power Productions, NY,
& Polish Cultural Institute Present
An Invictus Theatre Company World Premiere
Irena’s Vow
(Irena’s Vow Website)
By Dan Gordon
Directed by Michael Parva
Starring: Tovah Feldshuh as Irena Gut Opdyke

With:
Thomas Ryan as Major Rugemer, Steven Hauck as Schultz,
Maja Wampuszyc as Ida Hollar, Gene Silvers as Lazar Hollar,
Tracee Chimo as Fanka Silberman,
John Stanisci as Strumbannfuher Rokita,
Sandi Carroll as Helen and Rokita’s Secretary,
Scott Klavan as The Visitor, Peter Reznikoff as Mayor of Jerusalem

Set Design by Kevin Judge
Lighting Design by David Castaneda
Sound Design by Astrid Brucker
Projection Design by Alex Koch
Original Music and Sound Design by Quentin Chiapetta
Wig Design by Leah J. Loukas
Production Manager: Jeff Benish
Production Stage Manager: Alan Fox
Press Representative: O&M Co.
General Manager: Roy Gabay
At
Baruch Performing Arts Center
(BPAC Calendar)
NY, NY


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 20, 2008


When one reminisces about good theatre, the central thoughts usually surround an extraordinary performance. In Irena’s Vow, Tovah Feldshuh, portraying the true life character, Irena Gut Opdyke, gives the performance of a lifetime. At the end of this 90 minute, one-act production, the audience was so visibly moved, that many remained in their seats to collect their emotions. Tovah Feldshuh transported her audience to an American High School in 1988, where she related the life stories of Ms. Gut, then quickly to occupied Poland, 1939-45, and forward to Jerusalem, 1988, a circle of chronicled events that exemplify the goodness of the best of human souls.

Irena Gut, who became known to Dan Gordon, an impassioned and unsparing playwright, was a Polish Catholic nurse, who joined the Polish Underground, when Poland was invaded (1939) by the Germans on one border and the Russians on the other. The Russians captured Ms. Gut, beat and raped her, and submitted her to forced labor, until she miraculously escaped. However, she was also captured by the Germans and again put into forced labor, where she met SS Major Rugemer, who found her too physically weak for heavy munitions. In a German army kitchen, Ms. Gut began to secretly offer food to Jews in the ghetto, whom she also befriended. Rugemer never suspected her underground efforts and offered Ms. Gut a job as his personal housekeeper in Tarnapol. Irena Gut was in charge of a laundry, where she met 11 Jews, whom she personally led, through circuitous plans, into Rugemer’s own villa basement and found for them food, blankets, and clothes. She even surpassed their wildest hopes to deliver a baby right in the SS Major’s basement, out of sight and sound.

Gordon has only three characters, Ida and Lazar Hollar, plus Fanka Silberman, exemplify the 11 and subsequently 12 smuggled Jews, in this tense, but occasionally ironic, searing portrayal of a heroine’s bravery and pragmatism in the face of sure death. Irena Gut had nerves and will of steel. My central thoughts about Ms. Feldshuh’s extraordinary performance include her impeccable Polish (and German) accent and demeanor, which adjusted and changed considerably. First, she persuades high school students never to doubt the existence of the Holocaust, and later she writhes, as she succumbs to the SS Major’s sexual advances. Thus, she saves her life and continues to protect the hidden Jews. Much later she emotionally embraces the adult, who had been the baby she single-handedly masterminded into delivery. I also remain moved by Thomas Ryan’s captivation of the conflicted Major Rugemer, who seemed to truly desire, not just covet, his fastidious, yet internalized housekeeper. When he happened into his villa, while the hidden Jews were taking a break upstairs, he reached for his rifle, aimed, and hesitated, faced with Ms. Gut as human shield. The plot continually thickens, as SS Officers, including Rugemer, Schultz, and Rugemer’s Nazi superior, Rokita, all make impulsive decisions that save themselves from being seen as ineffectual, as their own military could turn them in as failed leaders, to be treated like the Jews in their captivity.

There is much revealed about the Holocaust, and the verbal images are brutal. This writer spent one day in the 80’s walking through Dachau, in Germany, now open to visitors, lest the world forget or deny the existence and purpose of such “death camps”. The Holocaust Museums in Washington, DC, and downtown New York were also built and organized to detail the political and military horrors and memorialize the heroes, victims, and survivors. The last survivors of the Holocaust are a dwindling few, and, as they and the brave Christians, who protected them, still tell their stories, audiences will continue to be amazed by extraordinary performances, not only of the actors who portray the searing scenarios, but also of the actual survivors who write their books and lead discussions in the schools and communities. Thanks to Ms. Gut’s book about her early experiences, her informative reunion with her sisters in Poland (They had lost their parents in the War), and the generosity of spirit of Ms. Gut’s daughter (who actually addressed tonight’s audience), Dan Gordon was armed with an exemplary story about an exemplary woman, a model of conscience (thus her “vow”) and character.

The supporting cast and technical staff could not have more effectively collaborated on this production, and I look forward to future plays from Invictus Theater Company, as well as future performances by Tovah Feldshuh. I continue to reminisce.



Tovah Feldshuh
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg




Tovah Feldshuh and Thomas Ryan
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg




Tovah Feldshuh
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg




Tovah Feldshuh
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg




First Row: Scott Klavan, Peter Reznikoff (suit and tie), Maja Wampuszyc,
Gene Silvers, Tracee Chimo, Tovah Feldshuh.
Second Row: John Stanisci (Nazi uniform), Sandi Carroll, Stephen Hauck (white apron),
Thomas Ryan
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg







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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net