The Women’s Theatre Project first staged Faye Sholiton’s The Interview in its former Fort Lauderdale home in 2009. The company is now producing work at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park, and for its second offering, it’s revisiting The Interview. The cast’s three key women are the same, and Genie Croft again directs.
There are, however, differences. Sholiton did some work on her script after that first production. The small role of a teen videographer is now being played by a guy (Christopher Scott Mitchell), the company having relaxed its all-female-cast policy. And designer Sean McClelland’s new set – of necessity much larger, more detailed and more thematically resonant – serves the play far better.
Harriet Oser again plays Bracha Weissman, a Polish Holocaust survivor and widow living in Ohio in 1995. The obsessively tidy, frank and sometimes volatile Bracha has agreed to participate in an oral history project, sharing horrific memories of the destruction of her extended family and her time at Auschwitz.
Bracha’s interviewer is Ann Meshenberg (Patti Gardner), the daughter of Polish survivors. Three things soon become apparent: Ann is inexperienced at her task, she’s at a loss when the normally controlled Bracha loses it, and she is doing the interview for reasons of her own.
The play’s third major character is Rifka (Irene Adjan), Bracha’s grown daughter. Named for an aunt who perished in the Holocaust, Rifka lives in California and is estranged from her mother, so much so that Bracha has never met her 12-year-old twin grandsons. In truth, the angry Rifka we see is a figment of her mother’s imagination and a dramatic device that allows Sholiton to make certain plot points.
Clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress, Bracha admits she demanded excellence from her children (the imagined Rifka labels her a tyrant). As she shares stories about how the Nazis decimated her family, Bracha digs down to a place of irrational but devastating guilt. Surviving unimaginable tragedy is one thing. Living with the memories, Sholiton suggests, is quite another for survivors and those who can never fully comprehend the experiences that shaped the person they love.
Oser covers the greatest emotional terrain in portraying a damaged woman confronting her truths and flaws. Gardner and Adjan contribute their own fireworks as daughters whose lives have been shaped by their mothers’ terrible pain.
If the play works better this time around (and it does), McClelland deserves some of the credit. He supplies a place for Rifka to live in Bracha’s imagination, a neatly kept living room where the elderly woman’s memories unfold, and doorways topped by words that serve as a nightmarish reminder of Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work makes you free”). Particularly for any survivors or their relatives, that visual will be, like Bracha’s memories, a reminder of the unfathomable.