This cathartic examination of one woman’s obsession with the Holocaust completes the trio of Murray Mednick legit works produced by the 2001 Padua Hills Playwrights Festival/Workshop, which had been dormant since 1995. Following the impressive debuts of “16 Routines” (May 5) and “Joe and Betty” (June 2), Mednick has wrought a devastatingly powerful journey through the inner workings of the psyche of Holocaust survivor Mrs. Feuerstein (Maria O’Brien), a revenge-driven creative writing teacher who becomes fixated on German-born fellow teacher Max (Christopher Allport) and his wife Freida (Lynnda Ferguson).
Mednick has created a riveting theatrical device to dissect the layers of emotional traumas and painful social adjustments this woman has endured in order to survive. He segues between Feuerstein’s fear-ridden struggles to be successful at an upscale private prep school and her fantasy play-within-a-play about wreaking ultimate vengeance on her German colleague and his wife whom she has cast as Nazi villains.
Forming a seamless synergistic bond with the playwright are O’Brien (daughter of Academy Award-winner Edmond O’Brien and actress/singer Olga San Juan) and director Roxanne Rogers.
O’Brien’s Feuerstein is an awe-inspiring study of tangible raw emotion that constantly contorts the surface of her countenance. Her interactions with Max, Frieda, her confused therapist Jane (Gwendoline Yeo) and youthful but empathetic school psychologist Dr. Baum (Drago Sumonja), reveal every aspect of her being. Her emotional needs and deep-seated abhorrent memories are so strong they thrust themselves immediately at anyone who comes close to her. It is fascinating to watch her navigate between the nervous twitchings of Feuerstein’s real life dilemmas and her hate-driven, erotic fantasies about sexually dominating an ever more willing Freida, balanced by her intermittent retreats into an internal emotional safe haven whenever she refers to Anna, an unseen adolescent student of hers who is wreaking havoc on Mrs. Feuerstein’s confidence as a teacher.
Rogers admirably balances all the stimuli that are bombarding Feuerstein’s soul into a powerful narrative. Rogers perfectly offsets Feuerstein’s absurd attempts to fit in at the school with the fantasy scenes that build to a fascinating climax of complete domination by an unforgiving Feuerstein and utter submission by Freida, who is driven to expiate the sins of the past.
Ferguson offers an impressive portrayal as the blond, imperious woman of the Third Reich who finds herself completely enveloped and seduced by the power of Feuerstein’s hate. Allport (“Jack Frost,” “Jack Frost #2”) is quite effective in his duo personas as the soft-spoken, German-accented teacher who truly wants to help Feuerstein and the fantasy Max, the unrepentant former SS execution squad murderer of Polish Jews. Sumonja is quite endearing as Dr. Baum, who is more in tune with Feuerstein than she will ever allow herself to know.
Yeo performs admirably as Young, the well-meaning but over-her-head therapist who cannot begin to cope with the depths of Feuerstein’s angst. Not faring as well is Louis R. Plante, who never seems at ease in the role of Young’s superior Dr. Samuelson.
The production is aided immensely by the evocative original music of O-Lan Jones, the impressionistic setting of Jeffrey Atherton and mood-enhancing lighting of Rand Ryan.