It’s 1949, the first night of Hanukkah, and 19-year-old Holocaust survivor Rebecca Blum faces a rocky start to her new life in New York. Over the course of “Eight Nights,” her journey of recovery and renewal offers a deeply personal window into the refugee experience and its generational repercussions in Jennifer Maisel’s insightful and moving new play, developed and expertly performed by the Antaeus Theatre Company.
Maisel’s play is structured in eight episodes corresponding to the Jewish festival of lights, with each night of candle-lighting set in a successive decade to illuminate a different stage of Rebecca’s life.
On the first night, a dark shadow looms over the reunion of frail, teenage Rebecca (Zoe Yale) and her guilt-ridden father (Arye Gross), who managed to escape the Nazis while the rest of her family died in a concentration camp.
Even as her dad and a sympathetic suitor (Josh Zuckerman) try to coax her back into the world, the distressed, nearly mute Rebecca is haunted by the ghostly presence of her mother (Tessa Auberjonois). She precariously balances past trauma and future hope.
As Rebecca’s fortunes improve through her 40s, Yale’s portrayal masterfully reflects the psychological legacy of that trauma. In a poetically choreographed handoff, a superb Auberjonois seamlessly takes over the role of Rebecca in her later years, and Yale reappears as Rebecca’s daughter and then as her granddaughter, providing elegant continuity in tracing the enduring aftermath of persecution.
Repressed details from Rebecca’s refugee trauma emerge in a gradual spiral that playwright Maisel expands to include the stories of other victims of persecution and their descendants.
At the start of the civil rights era in 1964, the legacy of slavery weighs on the heroic black veteran (Christopher Watson) who’d rescued Rebecca from the concentration camp and who is still struggling to find a solid footing in white-dominated society. His wife (Karen Malina White) has to remain a silent partner in her business venture with Rebecca.
By 1988, Rebecca’s daughter is marrying a grad student (Phinneas Kiyomura, alternating with Devin Kawaoka) whose Japanese American family had been sent to internment camps during World War II. A Syrian refugee (Gross) brings a current global perspective to the final segment.
Weaving these disparate cultural threads involves some narrative artiface, but director Emily Chase and her cast bring the human reality of persecuted refugees to life with breathtaking emotional impact.
When: 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 16
Info: (818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
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