There's no disputing the power of Irena Gut's story. What she accomplished during World War II — saving the lives of 12 Jewish refugees by hiding them in and near the house of a German major she worked for — is an act of heroism that deserves recognition and commemoration. It's also a story should be told with more subtlety and finesse than it is in Dan Gordon's play.
Tovah Feldshuh, who lit up the stage several seasons ago as Golda Meir in William Gibson's one-woman play about the Israeli prime minister (Golda's Balcony), is here saddled with nine co-stars who are not her equal and a pedestrian script filled with awkward dialogue that oversimplifies Irena's story as it plays too loose with facts.
In Gordon's hands some of Irena's achievements seem mythic, and they are. He even has his title character, a young Polish Catholic woman who was studying to be a nurse when she was beaten and raped by Russian soldiers, helping one of the refugees, hidden beneath a gazebo, give birth during a party the major throws. It never happened, and it registers as an over-the-top embellishment that cheapens the harrowing real story. So do the stock supporting characters and some odd shticky humor that counteracts the gravity of the situation.
Feldshuh may be decades older than her character, but she brings a ferocious intensity to her role, even if her performance is occasionally labored. Her speeches become tirades, as if neither Feldshuh nor director Michael Parva trusts the material to stand on its own. Irena's hefty story doesn't need to be diluted by movie-of-the week clichés for effect.
By DIANE SNYDER
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Tovah Feldshuh, Sandi Carroll, Tracee Chimo, Steven Hauck, Scott Klavan, Peter Reznikoff, Thomas Ryan, Gene Silvers, John Stanisci, Maja Wampuszyc
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036