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Rose: Five Hours in the Holy Land
By Ed Huyck
Watching Sally Wingert perform is a joy on any stage, but getting to see her in an intimate setting is a rare pleasure.
For Rose, the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company moves the action out of its already small home base at the Hillcrest Center in St. Paul and into a series of private homes around the Twin Cities. About two dozen folks gathered in a nicely appointed living room Sunday afternoon for this one-woman play about the titular character’s examination of her life during the 20th century.
In Robert Sherman’s play, the 80-year-old Rose is sitting Shiva, a weeklong Jewish custom meant to honor and remember the dead. Who she is mourning is not revealed until the very end, as most of the play finds Rose recounting her life — from a childhood in the Ukraine, to surviving the Holocaust in Poland, to her eventual immigration to the United States.
Running parallel to her life memories is the birth and growth of Israel. Her time there was brief. Before the nation was established, Rose was on a refugee boat that landed in Palestine, but was deported back to post-war Germany within hours. While she never did live in the Middle East, her son and grandchildren did, and the conflicts in that area drove wedges through the family.
Through it all, Wingert is spellbinding. Though she never leaves her seat on the bench (apart from a brief intermission), her expressive voice, face, and body language carry the day. By the end of the two hours, we have a fully rounded character before us that has been brought to life by Wingert’s efforts.
Sherman’s script is a little muddy in parts, especially when we move away from Rose’s intensely personal story and memories and more into the realm of politics and history. She was present at a number of horrifying and important moments in Jewish history during the 20th century — to the point where she starts to feel a bit like Zelig or Forrest Gump. There are also some startling coincidences along the way that start to strain the fabric of the story, and threaten to take us out of the marvelous spell that Wingert has cast.