(Long Beach, California) Local stage director Shashin Desai presents a grippingly emotional and profoundly moving production of a broken Jewish family shortly after the height of the Holocaust and World War II, as Liza de Weerd, Larry Eisenberg, Laura Howard, Charles Pasternak, Julia Silverman and Erin Anne Williams take the stage at Long Beach’s International City Theatre to kick off the four-week run of Barbara Lebow’s A Shayna Maidel. A Yiddish phrase that literally translates to “The Pretty Girl,” A Shayna Maidel deeply delves into the tale of the separation and eventual reunion of the Weiss family. The nearly 20-year-old stage production tackles many important geo-socio-politico issues.
The Weiss family split up in the early 1930s with father Mordechai (Larry Eisenberg) and Rose (Laura Howard) leaving Poland for New York City, with Lusia’s (Liza de Weerd) scarlet fever holding her and Mama (Julia Silverman) behind during the peak of economic upheaval and, eventually, German takeover.
Such is the back story, as A Shayna Maidel actually starts at the end. With World War II over, Mordechai pays his youngest daughter a visit in her Manhattan apartment. A young woman fully adjusted to her American lifestyle, what with her values of independence and personal space, Rose struggles to come to terms with her father’s proposal. While she is thrilled to hear her sister was liberated from a Holocaust camp, father Weiss instructs his youngest daughter to take Lusia into her modest one-bedroom apartment.
Then the real story starts. At first, Rose and Lusia struggle to develop a rapport, what with each looking at the other as a stranger. As the production moves forward, audiences start to learn more about each character’s inner thoughts. While one sister yearns for the things she left behind in Poland, the other struggles to come to grips with the situation she has been thrown into by her caring but seemingly overbearing father.
As everyone, including Mordecai, figure out how to readjust to life after spending 15 years apart from each other, the secrets, emotions, weaknesses and overall drama surrounding the personal and collective lives of Mordechai, Rose and Lucia come to a tee. Through it all, audiences will struggle to keep their collective emotions in check, as A Shayne Maidel is a hard-hitting tale about sisterhood, family, and undying faith in the face of ultimate adversity and crisis.
What makes A Shayna Maidel so special is they way it puts a face on the emotion of a battle that was fought and struggle that was endured nearly 70 years ago. Despite the story focusing on a Jewish family (complete with the occasional Yiddish dialog) and a global war fought before most people alive today were even born, the Lebow story is written well enough for any audience member — irrespective of ethnicity, religion or age — to understand and relate to.
In making such a powerful story relatable to just about anyone who watches this production, actors Eisenberg and de Weerd deliver masterful (and memorable) performances that are not just believable but also emotionally driven.
Throughout the production, de Weerd makes the audience feel Lusia’s pain by sharing her most intimate thoughts and deepest insecurities, whether it be how she despises being the reason her family was split up in the first place, or how she was closer to her best friend in Poland instead of her blood sister in Manhattan.
Equally as compelling was Eisenberg as Mordechai. At first, audiences may view him as a villainous father who is uncompromising and stubbornly holds too close to his ideals, almost at the expense of his relationship with Rose.
Speaking of Rose, her struggle is just as relatable — the young daughter who values her privacy and independence but makes the appropriate sacrifices in the name of father, sister and family. Howard is just about as compelling in her performance as Eisenberg and de Weerd are with their respective performances.
Still, at the end of the day, the story is about Mordechai’s decisions early in life, followed by Lusia’s struggle to come to terms with the series of events that have forced her not only to be separated from those she loves, but also how to resolve the many familial losses she personally witnessed while her father and younger sister lived sheltered lives half a world away.
However, A Shayna Maidel is far from a depressing story. Instead, it is rather therapeutic and redeeming. By the time the lights dim and the curtains come down, audiences will walk away with one thing — no matter what life may throw your way, family is the strongest bond that allows us to overcome all obstacles.
Running at the International City Theatre (adjacent to the Long Beach Performing Arts Center), A Shayna Maidel continues through July 3rd, with regularly scheduled shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., as well as matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Prices range from $32 to $42 per seat. Tickets and additional information are available at the theater’s website.