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"A Splintered Soul" Asks Hard Questions
A SPLINTERED SOUL--John Michalski and Lisa Bostnar. Photo by Richard Termine.
"A Splintered Soul"
Directed by Daisy Walker
311 West 43rd Street
Opened October 24, 2011
Thurs. thru Sat. at 8pm, Sun. matinee at 3pm
Closes Nov. 13, 2011
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 22, 2011
It seems that the slaughter of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis in the middle of the 20th century still ranks number one in the annals of human atrocities. This is certainly true when it comes to drama. It may be that the senseless and extremely successful (in European terms) genocide brings up so many questions about the nature of evil, the value of civilization, the efficacy of laws and the responsibility of the righteous. Or perhaps it is just that humans derive a perverse pleasure from picking at a sore.
"A Splintered Soul," by Alan Lester Brooks is not so much about the Holocaust as about what happened to the the survivors. Set in 1947 San Francisco, the drama centers on Rabbi Simon Kroeller (John Michalski), a former resistance fighter and Jewish community leader who is working to bring Jews to America.
The rabbi has also set up a refugee support group, which for some reason (never fully explained) disturbs San Francisco's native Jewish population. It is the rabbi's friend, Judge Martin Levinsky (Kenny Morris), who is given the onerous task of cautioning the rabbi to rein in his activities.
The rabbi's group includes Gerta (Anya Migdal), a young and sexy maid who survived the war by becoming the mistress of an officer; Mordechi (David Lavine), a sweet-tempered baker who sustained himself by becoming the lover of a (presumably different) officer; and Sol (Michael Samuel Kaplan), a gruff and cynical carpenter who spent the war years constructing air-tight doors for the gas chambers.
When two new refugees arrive, Harold Strewliskie (Sid Solomon) and his sister Elisa (Ella Dershowitz), and ask the rabbi to hide them from an abusive art dealer who is threatening them with deportation, the rabbi decides to take matters into his own hands.
Brooks claims to be a physician by profession and an author by preference. It is abundantly evident that he writes from the heart. But despite five years in development, it is also quite clear that this is not a professional work.
Director Daisy Walker tries to whip the show into shape. With the help of effective lighting and sound and a capable cast, she certainly raises it above the level of an amateur production. But unnecessary scenes (particularly a flashback to the war) and too many characters (why is the rabbi visited by his dead wife?) plague the drama.
What's more, the cast has not fully mastered the Polish accent and the uneven accents keep drawing the viewer out of the action.
Despite its flaws, however, "The Splintered Soul" is surprisingly engrossing. Brooks has supplied his plot with enough twists to keep the audience interested and enough humor to keep them laughing. And then, there are all those interesting questions he poses about the nature of justice and who should administer it.
"A Splintered Soul" may be heavy-handed and clunky. But at times it manages to take off.
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