Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Kosher Lutherans
Based on a true story, Hannah Senesh takes on epic scope, which is saying a lot, considering everything rests on the shoulders of actress Shanara Gabrielle. Kat Singleton directs her from delightful childhood to her dramatic death at the age of about 23. Those ten years become pretty amazing, as we see the Hungarian girl first exasperated with the world, then swept up in ecstasy (in her 20s) by the possibility of a Jewish state, and ultimately transformed into a bad ass paratrooperall in less than 90 minutes.
I'd like to be a little vague about the details, so as not to spoil any of the surprising changes that illustrate those remarkable ten years. But, if I did spill the beans, the story would probably only sound like The Perils of Paulinewere it not for the spiritual and sensual components of the story, by David Schechter, based on Miss Senesh's own diaries and poems, along with the sheer magnetism of the young woman playing her now. Senesh's writings hint at the incredible strength of character required to make (and survive) just about every one of the wild, impulsive, death-defying decision she makes.
My own father was an paratrooper in World War II, but I also went to a high school where the student population was about 30% Jewish. So I've long known there was more to 20th century history than just what I'd heard in my parents' house. And here we have a very good, personalized account of the struggle to recreate Israel, as a constant backdrop for the struggle against fascism in Europe. But any hint of Zionist inevitability is stripped awayby everything from Hannah's unguarded delight in Palestine to her surprising capture behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia.
It all supports the theory that a life lived with passion will never seem short (or dull). Exuberant in childhood, passionate as a young adult, and daring as she gives herself to the war effort, this Hannah comes fully to life, challenging us to pursue our passing freedoms.
Hannah Senesh, written by David Schechter and developed in collaboration with Lori Wilner, continues through December 22, 2013, at the New Jewish Theatre (no shows on Fridays). The 125-seat venue is located inside the Jewish Community Center, just west of Lindbergh on Scheutz Rd. For more information visit www.newjewishtheatre.org.
* Member, Actors Equity Association
Photo: John Lamb