Theatre Review: ‘Rose’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York

Tina Rausa in ‘Rose’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Rose doesn’t say she’s a heroine. She doesn’t consider herself a victim. She is, however, a survivor. She’s full of irony and contradiction (“I’m eating ice cream to take a pill for cholesterol,” she says as a cold creamy spoonful helps her swallow her meds), and a strong, modern woman who holds onto bits of tradition in a less than noble world.

. . .an exquisite night of theatre.

“Rose” is currently on stage at Jewish Repertory Theatre, through February 25, and Tina Rausa is reprising her title role as an older, wise actor.  This one-actor show runs the emotional gamut with compelling storytelling, a few laughs, and many powerful moments.

Rausa as Rose tells her story from the solid wooden shiva bench. No easy feat for an 80-something who – in her youth – walked through Warsaw’s sewers and through Eastern Europe to eventually board a ramshackle boat and then leap from a moving train to find freedom – not in Palestine as she thought – but in America. By the time she’s working in a Jersey shore hotel, she knows her young daughter and most of her family were killed. Yet she survives. If there’s guilt that lingers, she parlays it into determination to build a new life in a new world (“I mastered the language in a month,” she says), and if embracing American capitalism is foreign to her, she knew what she had to do to protect herself and the new family she’ll create.

This is far from another retelling of the atrocities of World War II: this production is more soulful. Rose admits that sometimes she’s not sure if her remembrances are real or pop culture adaptations she’s reliving. But they are sincere, emotional, stark and seering. Playwright Martin Sherman’s storytelling is riveting, and Rausa is expansive, as a slight woman whose only movements are soft and spare. Her expressions and the rise and fall of her voice as she recounts her stories fill the room. Sometimes she admits her failings, “I’m in the millennium, but I stink of the last century,” she says, and other times she wistfully remembers Yiddish as her first language, and struggles to reckon with the next generation’s reaction to 21st century Israeli conflict and politics. Sometimes Rausa the actor stumbles over her words: on the other hand, is it Rose, the person, stumbling past the articulation of her story?

Sherman’s words, sometimes punctuated by audio bites and musical backgrounds carefully curated by Tom Makar, against David Dwyer’s remarkably simple set and Brian Cavanaugh’s equally simple and effective lighting, support images that are hard to erase when you exit the space. What’s it like to lose everything, to start again, to question your identity, to lose connection with your past and try to grasp what is now….this is what Rose lives with every day.

It’s this push and pull between past and present, family and self, time frozen, indelible memories and the need to march forward that makes Rose a remarkable woman and an exquisite night of theatre.

Running Time: Approximately 110 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

“Rose” runs until February 25, 2018, and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.