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Paulanne Simmons

Barbara Kahn Explores Historical and Social Themes in "Walking from Rumania"

"Walking from Rumania"
Written and directed by Barbara Kahn
Opened March 26, 2009
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. at 10th St.
Thurs. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
Tickets: $12 (212) 254-1109
Closes April 19, 2009
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 4, 2009

Zina Anaplioti, Nate Rubin, Amanda Yachechak, and Robert
Gonzales in "Walking from Rumania" by Barbara Kahn. Photo by Joe Bly.

Once again Barbara Kahn mixes Jewish history, romance and politics in her newest play, "Walking from Rumania: a journey to freedom in 1899." The play focuses on the true story of women only groups of "fusgeyers" (pedestrians) who walked across Rumania to the Hungarian border so they could eventually board a ship in northern Germany and immigrate to America.

At the time of the play, Jews, along with Gypsies, were the targets for government sponsored (or ignored) attacks. The Rumanian constitution disenfranchised Jews, declaring them "aliens," although they had been in that area since Roman times.

"Walking from Rumania" tells the story of five women in a small Rumanian village who make preparations to join a larger group called "Esther's Daughters," which is leaving the nearest city in three months time.

Sylvia Milo & Amanda Yachechak. Photo by Joe Bly.

The group is torn by internal disagreements and the growing love between the group leader, Mim (Sylvia Milo) and the rabbi's daughter, Gittel (Amanda Yachechak). A program rips through the town and Gittel is raped by Luca (Nate Rubin), a childhood friend and suitor.

Zina Anaplioti & Robert Gonzales in "Walking from Rumania." Photo by Joe Bly.
Two wondering gypsies, Ion (Robert Gonzalez, Jr.) and Drina (Zina Anaplioti), function as a Greek chorus, with folk tales and music that comment on the action.

Kahn directs a cast of theater veterans and newcomers who work well together. Steph Van Vlack is particularly effective as Irene, the village prostitute, a wise and compassionate woman, who is in privy to many village secrets. Mark Marcante has designed a set that reflects both the rural beauty of the countryside and the simple lifestyle of these village people.

The play, however, would have been much improved with a greater attention to sound design. The program scene would have certainly been more effective if the audience could hear the screams of both the attackers and the victims surrounding the principal characters

Steph Van Vlack in "Walking from Rumania." Photo by Joe Bly.

"Walking from Rumania" is filled with cultural, political and historical references. Its theme of gay love can fit a bit uneasily into this historical context, until one realizes that women most certainly have loved women throughout history. They just didn't talk about it much until modern times.

However, one doesn't need to be gay or Jewish to respond to the call for human rights and respect for the individual present in "Walking from Rumania," as well as all of Kahn's work.

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