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Paulanne Simmons

Eve Adams in Paris

"Unreachable Eden"
Written and directed by Barbara Kahn
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue at 10th Street
Opened Feb. 9, 2012
Thurs. thru Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $12 (212) 254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Closes: Feb. 26, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 17, 2012

Rudy (Robert Gonzales Jr), Hella (Gusta Johnson) and Eve
Adams (Steph Van Vlack) make plans for escape as World War II begins. Photo by Joe Bly.

In "The Spring and Fall of Eve Adams," playwright Barbara Khan told the real-life story of the Polish Jewish lesbian (born Chava Zloczower) who ran a tearoom on Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village in 1926. At the tearoom, Adams held weekly poetry readings, musical performances and salons where sexual topics were openly discussed.

Based on the evidence of an undercover policewoman who claimed Adams had made unwelcome advances and offered her a book called "Lesbian Love," Adams was charged with disturbing the peace and disseminating obscene literature. She was imprisoned for a year and eventually deported back to Europe.

Kahn's sequel, "Unreachable Eden," which she directs with Robert Gonzales Jr, takes off where "The Spring and Fall of Eve Adams" left off. After a brief recapping, we see Eve (Steph Van Vlack) in Paris, again surrounded by writers and bohemians, including Henry Miller (Franco Pedicini), his second wife, June (Claire Epstein) and his lover, Anais Nin (Zina Anaplioti-Wilde).

Adams helps support the penniless Miller while she sells his and other banned writers' books to English-speaking tourists visiting Paris. But Adams longs for the old days and good times in Greenwich Village and pours out her heart in her diary. Even after she meets her lover, Hella (Gusta Johnson), her heart is not completely soothed.

World War II makes Adams's situation more desperate and the latter part of the play is devoted to her doomed attempts to escape the Nazis by appealing to the French, Italian and even Quaker organizations that were helping Jews.


Kahn presents an evocative panorama of Europe during the war, complete with Nazi officers, Nazi sympathizers and Nazi victims. At the same time she tells the very personal story of a lesbian who lived at a time when gay marriage would have seemed akin to worshipping Baal.

Van Vlack is both likable and believable as Adams. She makes Adams admirable for her strength but entirely human and never self-righteous. Because Kahn paints such an all-inclusive picture with a limited cast, most of the actors play multiple roles. This is sometimes confusing, as it is not always easy to figure out when the actors are in a new role.

There is a good deal of music (composed by Arthur Abrams with lyrics by Kahn) and some dance (choreographed by Robert Gonzales Jr, who is also musical director) in "Unreachable Eden." Although it's not clear why music has been incorporated in a play that is not quite a musical, Abrams and Kahn's songs are catchy and a nice addition to the show.

Barbara Kahn is something rare in theater: an historian and playwright with a special interest in lesbian themes. Her plays are great, expansive narratives revealing people and places many may not be familiar with. Aiming for our heads and our hearts she tweaks our intellect and kindles our emotions.


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