With the tsunami of rave reviews from the recent National Arts Festival in Grahamstown it was no surprise to see a packed house for the opening night of Martin Sherman’s acclaimed play Rose. This is the Jewish version of Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump. The feisty female protagonist is the embodiment of Jewish tradition and embraces every detail of her culture. The story of her life is told from a shiva (a Jewish mourning bench) in the present day by an 80 year old Rose. She starts at her childhood in a small town in Russia and takes the audience on her heroic adventure, with its bitter misfortune and meeting of blissful lovers.
The pairing of Martin Sherman’s script and Fiona York’s characterisation is sublime. From the concentration camps of the holocaust and her daring escape, to her travelling to America on a ship (appropriately named The Exodus) and her new life in Atlantic City, her thoughts are projected through perfectly nuanced words and subtle body language, creating the most beautiful, disturbing and surprising images within the audience’s mind.
The play is based on real life stories of the American writer’s family members. Immensely thought-provoking, he balances humour with scenes of dramatic sadness to keep the audience engaged throughout. He introduces Rose’s parents, siblings, three husbands, children and grandchildren along the way and explores them in enough detail to understand not only who they are but how they help to define Rose too. Rose is a play about the hardship of a religion, the strength of its people and the stories they now have to tell. The theatre was filled with laughter, silent sobs and goose bump moments. The play is a must-see for those who are grounded in tradition and relish the stories and triumphs of a historic culture. Amazingly written and stunningly acted.
Rose runs from 14 July to 6 August 2011 at The Kalk Bay Theatre.