NEW YORK—Based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer and adapted by Yevgeny Arye (director and also artistic director of the Gesher Theatre of Israel) and Roy Chen (who also translated), Enemies: A Love Story, is a dark but often humorous depiction of a group of Jews who escaped the Holocaust to settle in New York.
Set in 1949, Herman Broder (Israel (Sasha) Demidov) works as a ghost writer for a rabbi, although he tells his wife, Yadwiga (Natasha Manor), that he is a traveling book salesman. This odd lie gives him the freedom to wander about at will, experiencing an odd kind of social life from which Yadwiga is excluded.
Yadwiga, a shy Polish gentile, was formerly a servant to Herman’s family in Poland, where she shielded and protected him from the Nazis. Herman married her out of gratefulness, and she in turn adores him and is grateful to him for now protecting her in this strange city of Brooklyn, New York.
Whenever he can, Herman spends time with his lover Masha (Efrat Ben-Zur), a vivid, seductive beauty who is also very neurotic and willful. Although he realizes that Masha is destructive, both to herself and others, Herman cannot resist the pull of her sensuality and powerful personality. One senses that he too has a self-destructive streak.
Herman, who had been married with two children in Poland, believes his entire family there is dead. But remarkably and unexpectedly, his wife Tamara (Lilian Ruth) appears. Even after learning of his current marriage, Tamara is undemanding and forgiving, although somewhat scornful that he has married down, to a servant. She informs Herman that their two children were murdered by the Nazis, right in front of her.
Herman, not the most adjusted person to begin with, is torn with conflict as to which of the three women he must favor. Clinging to all the characters, which include a rabbi (Boris Akhanov), Masha’s mother (Fira Kantor), and others (portrayed by Gilad Kletter, Gilles Ben-David, Alon Friedman, Yevgeny Terletsky, Daniel Chernish, and Victor Sokolov), is a sense of the outsider, and a certain heaviness, carried over from their earlier life experiences.
Worn down by his ever-present rootlessness and insecurity, it appears that Herman’s final life decision, in spite of good advice by wiser heads, will not garner a positive outcome.
The acting in this production is simply superb, which comes in great part from being members of a permanent company that has worked together for many years, a luxury seldom experienced in the States.
As Herman, Israel (Sasha) Demidov exhibits a marvelous physicality, showing the inner state of mind of a man who is not secure in his own skin. Natasha Manor seems every inch the low-born Polish peasant woman she portrays.
Efrat Ben-Zur reeks of sensuality and neuroses, while Lilian Ruth displays the weight of a woman who has suffered an extremely painful life, but who fights to keep her emotional being intact and controlled.
Presented by Gesher Theatre, Israel, the production is unique and remarkable. Director Yevgeny Arye states in a program note: “For me, the Holocaust nightmare sounds through generations … an echo which you can’t escape.”
Russian-born, in 1991 Arye immigrated to Israel with a group of Russian actors and there founded Gesher Theatre, which has become a mainstay in Israel and is noted worldwide.
Scenes are brief, almost cinematic, with swiftly sliding screens indicating scene changes. Set design is listed as: Simon Pastuch (New York) and set production: Workshop “Gesher” Theater, Sukhanov production.
The show’s length might be a problem for some—almost two and a half hours—but the material is compelling enough to hold one’s interest.
The production is part of the Cherry Orchard Festival, which earlier presented The Giacomo Variations with John Malkovich.
Enemies: A Love Story
Rose Theater at Lincoln Center
60th and Broadway
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Closed: June 9
Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: [email protected]