From the pogroms of Tsarist Russia through the Holocaust in Nazi Germany to the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Jewish experience the 20th Century has been one of constant struggle. In that way the last 100 years are not unlike the previous 5700 years, and serve well as a microcosm of the entire history of Judaism, as evidenced by Martin Sherman's Rose, now in production by the Everyman Theatre Company.

Photo of Deborah Persoff as Rose
Deborah Persoff as Rose
Sherman, who wrote Bent, the definitive story of gays during the Holocaust, has a knack for capturing the essence of history in personal stories, in this case personified by an 80-year-old woman named Rose. In a double coup, director Richard Pegg landed both Deborah Persoff to play the role and produced the regional premiere at the Mizel Center's Pluss Theatre, making for a fortunate confluence of talent and built-in audience.

Rose is sitting shivah, the Jewish practice wherein relatives of the deceased sit for a number of days following the funeral and praise the dead. Using this canny metaphor, Sherman provides Rose with a vehicle for revisiting events in a manner that is both personally and collectively poignant. How many, we wonder, were decimated in this manner? How many perished and did not live to bear witness?

From her Russian-flavored Yiddish accent to her archetypal mannerisms, Persoff imbues Rose with storytelling mien that speaks for an entire culture. As the young Rose, Persoff beams excitedly as she describes, Yentl-like, her rare privilege as a girl to be allowed to study. By this time the Cossacks have already killed her father.

Sent away by her mother to join her older brother in Warsaw and escape the embattled shtetl, Rose is again trapped when the Nazis strip the Jews of their possessions and gather them into a ghetto, to starve them in preparation for the "Final Solution." Her new family destroyed, Persoff's Rose shows us what it is like to lose faith in God.

And so continues Rose's odyssey that parallels the modern Diaspora, including escapes from a Russian displaced persons camp, emigration from France—via the famed ship, Exodus—to Palestine, capture by the British and return to camps in Europe, and eventually to America and more incarnations than Krishna.

Such a story, containing so many horrendous events, pushes credulity eventually, because, though we know people who have lived similar lives, the coincidences Sherman uses to create irony are too symmetrical. This comes to a head when the playwright uses Rose's grandson to overly simplify the complex relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, trivializing the very experience he has so assiduously documented.

Despite this excess in the book, Rose remains an astonishing work for both the endearing and well-acted portrait of a remarkably perceptive woman, and the history to which it bears tribute.

Everyman Theatre Company's production of Rose runs through June 5th at the Pluss Theatre at the Mizel Center. 303-316-6360.

Bob Bows


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