Saturday, November 29, 2003

V-E Day (Dobama)


In 1992 a box of newsletters written during the Second World War were dropped off at The Cleveland Jewish News. Fortunately, the material found its way to Faye Sholitan, one of the paper’s writers. ‘Hello Again,” the monthly publication was circulated to Cleveland GIs as a morale booster. It contained hometown gossip centering on those who had attended Glenville High School, ate at Mawby’s on Lee Road, danced their nights away at the Statler Bar, were tended to in Mount Sinai Hospital, and attended Silver’s Temple on Ansel Road and East 105th Street. It noted the happy events in life back home.

Besides being a reporter, Sholitan is a playwright. As such, she was moved by the voices whom she later knew as her parents’ friends. ‘V-E DAY’ is her salute to the people who wrote and whose lives were noted in “Hello Again.” The original publications can be found at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Copies are at the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

‘V-E DAY’ was recently awarded first prize in the Arlene R. and William P. Lewis Playwriting Contest sponosred by Brigham Young University which honors women writers.

‘V-E DAY’ tells the tale of the now 79-year old Evelyn Bergfeld, who appears to have spent her happiest years during World War II. It reveals how she won and lost Bernard Cohen, the real love of her life. It relates how she went on to marry another man. How she traversed through that marriage and motherhood with little joy. How she literally and figuratively buries her life. How, in her later years, she submerges into depression, unable to find happiness in anything except buying unneeded goods on the Home Shopping Network and harassing her daughter and caretakers. Depressed until....(let’s stop there, no sense in giving away the whole plot). Let’s just say, it’s amazing what happens when the potential for happiness, no matter what age, becomes a possibility.

Sholiton presents the material through a series of present day happenings and simultatenous flashbacks. We meet all the major characters in their present as well as their early selves. Several times the cross fades between this and the past worlds get blurred due either to lighting errors or a lack of verbal or physical transitional qualities, but the writing device generally works well. The ending of the play confused the audience. After what appeared to be an ending line and a blackout, and hardy applause, the lights came up on yet another scene which didn’t add much to the play’s purpose.

Director Jacqi Loewy honed the performance well. She kept the action crisp and left little unclear and aided her actors to develop realistic characters.

Set designer Mark Kobak created a workable and well-detailed set. The only confusion came with an imaginary entrance door. The first arrival through the invisible entry gave the illusion that the character might be a figment of Evelyn’s confuision or imagination rather than a real person. Since all other aspects of the set were so realistic, a real entrance space was needed.

The cast was outstanding. As Evelyn, Rhoda Rosen walked the tight-rope between depression and senility with clarity. She was absolutely believable in what could have been a caricature performance. Talent, talent, talent!!!! It was easy to grasp Mitch Field’s years of longing to have spent his life with Evelyn. Jennifer Clifford, Michael John Sestli, and Holly Humes were totally believable as the young Evie and Bernie and Bernie’s sister Lil. Juliette Regnier was alternately frustrated and empathic as Evelyn’s daughter Aimee. Jennifer Salkin was fine as Young Aimee.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘V-E DAY’ is a lovely little play filled with humor and pathos. Its life expectancy might be limited with all the Cleveland references. Local people who lived through the WWII era will “qvell” over reliving that time. Others will be intrigued by this slice of historical life.