THE GOLDMAN PROJECT - Wolf Entertainment October 2007
When actress Anita Keal as Holocaust survivor Naomi Goldman, seated in her Inwood, New York home, slowly tells the story of events she has kept secret all these years, she can break your heart. Her moving account comes as a wrenching high point in Staci Swedeen’s drama “The Goldman Project,” being staged by the Abingdon Theatre Company and the Penguin Repertory Company. The play is intelligently and sensitively written, and its three-member cast and director Joe Brancato do it justice.
The author is concerned with the Holocaust itself but also the residue it has left not only on those who suffered but on family members. Naomi is a widow, quite likable for her streak of independence, her proud bearing, sense of humor and her determination not to let advancing age define her life. Her son Tony, played with energy and a restless edge by Sam Guncler, is not a happy man. He has always felt uneasy with his parents and he is cynical about the world.
The dramatic catalyst arrives in the person of Aviva (Bernadette Quigley.) She and Tony were lovers when they were in school, but the relationship ended, and to his surprise, she turns up wanting to film an interview with Naomi as part of a project to preserve Holocaust stories for posterity while there are still survivors. Tony is angry and rejecting. Protective of his mother as well as his own disengagement with his Jewish roots, he doesn’t want the matter reopened. At first his visibly upset mother leaves the room when the issue is brought up. But she soon comes around and begins to cooperate.
Tony and Aviva are opposites, and yet a flame is rekindled as we watch an embrace on the sofa, followed by a fade-out. But the author has the good sense not to turn this into a Holocaust tale with romance. She keeps her focus on Naomi and her jolting story told to Aviva and her camera, followed by exploration of its aftermath without veering off track. What is revealed has a profound effect on Tony and presents Aviva with a dilemma.
One leaves the play with respect for it, as well as for the performances by Quigley, Guncler, and especially Keal.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Review: 'Goldman' faces terror of Holocaust
BY PETER D. KRAMER
THE JOURNAL NEWS
For 29 years, Penguin Rep has been letting Stony Point audiences in on the theatrical ground floor - giving them what Joe Brancato calls "the first look" at shows that may or may not have lives after their run on Crickettown Road.
Staci Swedeen's "The Goldman Project" is the charming barn theater's latest world premiere, on stage through Oct. 29.
With a mesmerizing performance by Anita Keal, it should be on every serious theatergoer's to-do list, purely for its ability to provoke thought and conversation.
The play - about fictional Holocaust survivor Naomi Goldman - also stars Sam Guncler as her son, Tony, and Bernadette Quigley as Tony's ex-girlfriend, Aviva, who shows up wanting to document Naomi's war years and triggers a torrent of painful revelations.
In director Brancato's hands, Swedeen's story gets a top-notch telling: The director's pace, like the playwright's writing, is brisk without feeling rushed.
Swedeen has an ear for dialogue, even the passages in Yiddish fit the moment nicely. (Don't worry: The Yiddish is instantly translated in the course of the conversation.)
In casting "The Goldman Project," Brancato goes two-for-three, an average any Yankees fan would have appreciated last weekend.
Keal is pitch-perfect as Naomi, a mix of weariness with a dash of hope; Quigley gives Aviva a likeable persistence and real humanity.
Guncler, as Tony, comes up short. On the page, Tony is complicated - wounded and insensitive, angry and a bit pathetic - a full plate for any actor. Guncler, who looks too young for the part, chooses a sort of off-handed delivery that registers as insincerity. When there's a moment of real emotion late in the action, it doesn't pack as big a punch as it could.
But the character at the heart of the play is Naomi, the mother. In Keal's capable hands, she is strong, determined, haunted and real.
At first, she doubts anyone would want to hear her painful story: "Why would I want to make people miserable for? So many had it so much worse."
But soon enough, there she is, answering Aviva's questions, part of Steven Spielberg's Shoah project to document the stories of Holocaust survivors.
Watch as Naomi recalls the horror of witnessing death in Auschwitz. Sitting ramrod straight, Keal acts with her eyes and her voice, all the while twisting her hands in her lap. This is a woman reliving a long-ago terror, frozen by remembered fear.
It's an indelible moment, one worth seeing in person. And because it's Penguin Rep, you'll be seeing it before everyone else.