HUDSON -- After spending their lives an ocean apart, two young women try to wade through sorrow and separation to reconnect as sisters in “A Shayna Maidel” at The Phipps.
The play is a moving tale that tracks the aftermath of one Jewish family’s experience during the Holocaust. Opening night was Jan. 17.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Weiss family planned to leave Poland for America, but a sickness separated them, leaving eldest daughter Lusia (played by Mary Shaffer) and Mama (Adele Dolan,) in Poland and sending youngest daughter Rose, (Sophie Finnerty) and Papa Mordechai (Tom Averna) to Brooklyn.
The Great Depression and Adolf Hitler’s rise further delay travel, leaving Mama and Lucia, along with her husband, Duvid (Mitchell Bugni), victims of the Holocaust. They finally reunite, in part, when Lusia comes to New York to live with Rose.
The reunion is shadowed by grief and the unfamiliarity of two sisters who have not been together since childhood. Shaffer and Finnerty portray the relationship well, capturing the dueling emotions of ingrained fondness one has for a sister weighing against the awkwardness of experience with a stranger.
The story hinges on this difficult dynamic, and the actors deliver. There is a stiffness in their interactions with each other, as well as a guarded yearning, a genuine desire to be family once more, reflected in small smiles, and even laughter.
As sisters often do, the two come together best when teaming up against their father, finding footing with each other in the lighthearted eye rolls and resigned sighs.
The two have lived very different lives, one surviving and one sheltered, but have a shared history and a shared grief.
One of the most poignant moments comes when Luisa and her father bring out matching notebooks, each containing the list of their family in Poland during the Holocaust. The two, well-acquainted with loss, stoically compare the known fates of their relatives. Meanwhile Rose, who has been left in the dark, experiences the revelations as the audience does, with shock and fresh heartache.
Through the sorrow the sisters find moments of connection, of warmth, and, of hope.
“A Shayna Maidel” runs through Feb. 2, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.
Following the Sunday, Jan. 26, performance, Hudson attorney Rob Wertheimer will present “Ruth’s Story,” an account of his mother’s experience as a “hidden child” during the Holocaust.