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Walking from Rumania

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Mim (Sylvia Milo) and Gittel (Amanda Yachechak)
Walking from Rumania

There may not be any parting of the seas or manna-collecting going on in Barbara Kahn's Walking From Rumania, but there are definitely some similarities between the Exodus of the Israelites and the 1899 journey of five women who walked across Rumania to reach the United States, Canada and Palestine.

In Walking From Rumania, the cruel Egyptians are replaced with cruel goyims who commit pogroms (rampage against Jews), and instead of God raining down manna to eat, food is distributed along the way by key people at special stop points. However, Walking From Rumania is far from a copycat work. It is a historical drama that chronicles the rising tensions and terror that Jews and Gypsies sustained before the Holocaust. But while the production takes great measures to accurately reflect the look and feel of late 19th century Rumania, it sacrifices theatricality and momentum.

The premise of the show is presented very early, during the opening sequences. Too early. Even before the audience gets a chance to know Mim (Sylvia Milo), the play's Moses and Chava (Michelle Cohen), her younger sister, the plot about escaping from Rumania to join "Esther's Daughters", a larger group three months away, is revealed. Henceforward, the mission is relentless, and they are joined by Frieda (Jenny Grace), an insecure bully to Mim's natural born leader, Sophie (Natalie Reder), Frieda's chew toy, and Gittel (Amanda Yachechak), a Hasidic jew that Mim sets her eyes on.

Under Kahn's even-tempered direction, the show drags on through weeks of preparation for the trip that consists of muscle-building exercises, delegating tasks and positions, and writing their life stories to sell along the way. However, except for some endearing scenes between Mim and Gittel, the scenes between the five women transpire mechanically and lifelessly. Luckily, Ion (Robert Gonzales, Jr.) and Drina (Zina Anaplioti), a pair of Gypsy siblings, interject ever so often to breathe life into the show, even though their songs and the stories they tell are always somber and melancholy. They are Walking From Rumania's charming Greek chorus.

While their sound is in sync, other audibles are out of sorts. The accents of the ladies are not uniform, and some of them are non-existent. Because the women are all purported to be from the same small village, it's inconsistent that they don't all have the same accent. Also, the production can use some sound bytes apart from the music performed by the gypsies. There are several scenes between the women that are so dry that even a creaky window or a chair scraped across the floor could help.

However, the show triumphs aesthetically. Mark Marcante's wonderful rustic set is beautiful in its simplicity, with wooden casement windows and a floor that is painted or shellacked to mimic indentations. Alice J. Garland's period costumes are also clean, and help to transport you to the era.

Kahn's script is focused, but leaves very little room for a three-dimensional story. While there are some subplots, they all feed into the trek to America. The audience knows that these women are pursuing freedom, but there never seems to be a sense of urgency to get it. Except for a few instances where the peril associated with living in Rumania is brought to the forefront, the desperation to leave isn't communicated by the actors. However, the dialogue does make the danger intellectual at least.

Walking From Rumania is a refreshing new take on Jewish survival, and a rare look into the plight of gypsies. However, before it can strike at the heart of its patrons, it needs to be more of a sprint than a walk.

Walking from Rumania
Through April 19
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th
Performances: Th 8:00 pm, Fri 8:00 pm, Sat 8:00 pm, Sun 3:00 pm
Tickets online: Theater for the New City

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