Christina Rausa, an adroit and acclaimed actress who usually surfaces only when someone shows up at her door with a memorable, preferably monological script in hand, is happily back on a Buffalo stage -- The Alleyway Theatre, for the rest of the month -- as the title character in Martin Sherman's memory play and history lesson, "Rose." It's just Rausa, a few props and a riveting story to tell. Let it snow.
Rose is 80, Jewish, widowed -- at least twice, maybe three times -- living comfortably in Miami after a lifetime of harrowing experiences beginning in the former Ukraine, followed by an untimely move to Warsaw, Poland, in the days leading up to WWII and Nazi persecution, and then days, months on the run through urban sewers and countryside. Her family is dead or missing, a daughter shot before her eyes, a husband "rounded up." She witnessed atrocities and heard horror stories -- bodies turned into fertilizer, for example -- tales that caused screams and nightmares. That is, if you could sleep at all, Rose recalls.
And so Rose talks about all of this, sometimes so much that she suffers from a shortage of breath. Ah, a little water and she resumes. "At my age, breathing is one of the few pleasures I have left," she says with the timing of a Catskill comic. There is minutia, she has a tendency to ramble and sometimes a shrug explains a point or even silence speaks. Rose is honest and feisty and opinionated and loves the give and take of argument and the use of the fabled Jewish retort when ideas fly furiously: "On the other hand . . ."
Playwright Sherman (he also wrote the prize-winning and controversial "Bent") follows Rose through those Warsaw times, post-war camps, the ill-fated trip on the ship Exodus (supposedly to resettlement), an eventual landing in America with a sailor husband, a business career, a hippie-commune lifestyle for a few years and later, wondering aloud at the Israeli-Palestine conflict and her children and grandchildren's role in Gaza fighting.
Sherman uses Rose as a symbol for the 20th century Jewish experience. He preaches some and late in the play when Rose goes global -- she's in Arizona, Israel, Miami -- and a series of unlikely coincidences occur, the story loses focus. On the other hand . . . many loose ends get tied.
Rausa is marvelous, a long way from octogenarian status, but she pulls it off. There are many moments where, in thought and trying to think things through, she looks old, tired and alone. She works hard at these characters (in the past, she's been Golda Meir and Emily Dickinson, among others) through gait, inflections, consistent little habits we come to recognize. Rausa, on opening night, seemed to have a momentary line lapse or two. Rose admitted to having a problem remembering. Amazing. Right in character.
Saul Elkin directs for the Jewish Repertory Theatre and his work is subtle. Pace is Elkin's forte. His suggestions have certainly made "Rose," talky but extraordinarily insightful, only briefly tedious.
3 1/2 stars
One-woman memory play by the Jewish Repertory Theatre, performed at Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley, through Nov.1.
For information visit 852-2600 or www.jewishrepertorytheatre.com.