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Mrs. Feuerstein

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Mrs. Feuerstein, Murray Mednick's play at the Chashama Theatre, takes place in the 1960s, and focuses on the quest of a woman (the play's title character) to gain revenge for the horrors she experienced as a Polish Jew during World War II. A number of possibly familiar ideas are brought to the surface, along with some unfamiliar ones, but perhaps most interesting is Mednick's use of a play-within-the-play.

The play in question is being written by Mrs. Feuerstein (played by Maria O'Brien), and frequently described in exacting detail to her therapist, Jane (the charming Samantha Quan). As she relates the story, she moves in and out of the drama she's constructing. Such is the movement of the story that it's occasionally difficult to know whether events are really happening or if it's merely part of her composition. The lights by Jeremy Morris are frequently helpful, but both Mednick and director Roxanne Rogers make this ambiguity work.

What doesn't work is the play-within-a-play itself. It simply is not very compelling, and, until the last plot twist or two, is fairly predictable. Beyond that, because the play-within-the-play concerns only characters from Mrs. Feuerstein's real life (specifically Max and Frieda Wohl, played by Daniel Ahearn and Lynnda Ferguson), we should be able to expect to get involved in the story.

This never happens because Mednick does not sufficiently develop his characters in the "real" world. Much of their attitudes are filtered through Mrs. Feuerstein's prejudices and impressions of them, but their appearance in her play doesn't help us to get to know Max or Frieda better.

Other parts of the script are more successful. Jane's scenes with her own analyst (Dana Gladstone) play well, as do Mrs. Feuerstein's encounters with her school's principal, played by Kevin Shinick.

The supporting characters are all considerably more likable than the main ones, though all are well performed. Ferguson is too angry most of the time, and O'Brien, though capable of a wide emotional range and handling the lion's share of the dialogue, primarily grows wearisome because of her predictable and seldom varying vocal inflections. Ahearn comes the closest to creating an interesting, watchable character, but even he has a hard time.

The lack of definition in most of the characters is all the more frustrating because of the ideas Mednick presents elsewhere; the play does contain some very strong and perhaps unexpected scenes. At one point, Mrs. Feuerstein examines her thirst for revenge and her own attitudes against the people she blames for her earlier nightmarish treatment. In another, she emotionally defines her Jewish experience and heritage, both before and after the Holocaust. Mednick isn't afraid to tackle uncomfortable issues, whether the all-too-detailed treatment of the young Adele Feuerstein and her family, or her quest, many years later, to track down those behind it.

But ideas can only take anything so far, and too much of the execution - primarily from O'Brien and Mednick himself - is lacking in Mrs. Feuerstein.


Padua Playwrights
Mrs. Feuerstein
by Murray Mednick
Chashama Theatre
135 West 42nd Street
Tickets: (212) 591-1343
Through December 16
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission

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