Enemies, A Love Story
The Wilma Theater deserves credit. Enemies, a Love Story, their contribution to the Philadelphia New Play Festival, is solid and well produced. Director Jiri Zizka has assembled a top-notch team of actors and designers. The actors, most notably Kati Brazda as Yadwiga, execute their roles deftly. David P. Gordon's set design is both gorgeous and practical; his use of space compartmentalizes the stage into three separate locations while allowing for seamless transition between each. Janus Stefanowicz's costumes are the only outfits one can imagine the characters wearing. Jerrold R. Forsyth's lighting design, in particular, stands out for its unobtrusive artistry.
Yet the production is somehow unsatisfying. Again, the Wilma does a splendid job on all accounts. But Sarah Shulman's script is what seems to be lacking here.
This adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel revolves around Herman, a man who escaped the terrors of the concentration camps by abandoning his wife for dead and hiding out in a hayloft for three years. Once the war ends, he marries Yadwiga, who has kept him safe all this time, and the pair migrate to New York. Now Herman faces an existential crisis. He is Jewish, yet no longer believes in God. After a time he begins an affair with Masha, a camp survivor who lives with her ever-depressing mother. Finally, as he is trying to find a way to marry Masha while retaining his ties to Yadwiga, his first wife Tamar turns up, not dead but with a damaged memory and personality and in the care of a rabbi trying to make his way as a television repairman.
Essentially, that is the gist of the story. You expect to feel some measure of pity for these characters; after all, they have come through horrors untold in Nazi Germany only to have to find a way to get past the trauma and start all over again. Yet there is little that is pitiable in any of these lost souls, with the possible exception of Yadwiga, who has been played for a fool, and perhaps Tamar, as she has been permanently damaged and cannot help her eccentricities. Masha is a vampire of a woman, only instead of blood, she sustains herself on the life force of her lovers, gradually sapping their energy and happiness with her own combination of vulnerability and sheer nastiness. One cannot help but wonder why in the world Herman would be attracted to such a woman, particularly when her mother Shifrah comes in the bargain, staying in the room to continually espouse such notions as, "I wish I were dead with all my friends at the camps," and the like. The rabbi, like the mother, offers a taste of the cliché as he desperately attempts to "Americanize" everything from his name on down.
Enemies follows Herman on a twisted path of sexual obsession, guilt, and religious denial as he does all he can to keep track of three wives and his sanity. And, although the Wilma's production is top-notch, the play itself does little to move the audience.
Enemies, a Love Story runs through March 11 as part of Philadelphia's New Play Festival. For tickets, call 215-546-7824, or online at www.wilmatheater.org.
Enemies, A Love Story