“Irena’s Vow,” directed by sophomores Shayna Gleason and Ingrid Hofeldt, premiers this weekend in the Little Nourse Theater. “Irena’s Vow,” written in 2009, recounts the story of Irena Gut, a Polish woman who hid 12 Jews from the Nazis during the second World War.
A young cast takes the stage; freshman Natalie Jacobson stars as Irena. Playing opposite is Mark Steitz ‘18, who assumes the role of Natalie’s master and lover, German Major Rugemer. Though few Little Nourse returners gilded the cast, Ian MacEneany ‘17 chills the audience as a sick and opportunistic SS Officer named Rokita, arguably the most convincing character.
As the subject matter should obviate, this show assumes a markedly different tone from typical ETB avant-garde productions (and was therefore, arguably, avant-garde itself). The show emits no zany profanity or obscure sentiment – this Holocaust tale is earnest and heartfelt.
Appropriately, directorial decisions remained conservative. Gleason and Hofeldt dressed actors as closely to period attire as one would expect out of an ETB budget – for example, Logan Ellwood-Digel ’18, playing the part of an amicable young Jewish father, donned a jacket some five shoulder inches broad.
Alexandra Pozniak ’18, narrating the show as a future Irena, wore a simple black dress that blended her right into the Little Nourse black-washed stage, a subtle choice that, despite the reviewer’s inclination toward maximalism, handily back staged her presence into a proper narratorial distance.
While largely a sound production, the most prominent issue with “Irena’s Vow” was the script’s failure to offer the cast any complications to explore. For example, the deep-set problems with the relationship between Irena and the domineering Major Rugemer – namely that Irena’s life and the lives of those she hides are entirely in Major Rugemer’s hands– are addressed in minor worries appended to their otherwise vanilla romance.
Furthermore, tension between Irena and those she hides flickers like a hopeless ember. Though an abortion poses a point of conflict, all is resolved after both parties decide to yield within about eight minutes of the issue’s introduction.
The reviewer is certain that the directors are aware of these down- falls, but a weak script doesn’t allow for much positive adjustment. The cast evidently had worked hard on the show, but was ulti- mately held back by the play- wright’s light-handed treatment of sexuality and culture clash, an unfortunate reversal of the typical college theater dynamic.
“Irena’s Vow” ends with an especially uncomfortable break of the fourth wall. Present day Irena, as played by Pozniak, makes an extended and involved plea toward our generation – the last to meet Holocaust survivors in person – for the Holocaust to never be forgotten.
While an appropriate message to another, perhaps younger, audience, to us it raises many concerns. Is the Holocaust to be remembered by such pieces as this, those that glance over all the terrible side stories and complications, those that render the oppressors into such caricatures that in them we can see none of ourselves?
Indeed, the narrating Irena could have been done away with, and perhaps the audience could then be left to understand without instruction, to be permeated without cheapening.
The reviewer would not recommend waltzing into “Irena’s Vow” with a screwdate; it’s sad, confusing, and frustrating in the sort of way that’s hard to talk about with someone you met three hours ago. If one, however, is interested in evolving depictions of the Holocaust, a historical event that has shaped our lives more than we can possibly understand, “Irena’s Vow” makes a compelling point of study.
Yet as a piece of art, the script weighed heavily on the eager cast. Upon leaving the opening night performance, one astute audience member captured the play’s impression well. “It made me cry, but I didn’t like it that much.”