A Splintered Soul
Alan Lester Brooks' thoughtful drama about the Holocaust is worth taking seriously.
As the drama begins, Rabbi Simon Kroeller (John Michalski), who has joined the Polish resistance during World War II, is seen mistakenly blowing up a passenger train somewhere in the woods outside of Krakow.
He's next spotted several years later in his Frank Lloyd Wright-like San Francisco home (from set designer Kevin Judge) trying to make sense of the post-war world while pondering a provocative theory blasted by the fiery Sol (Michael Samuel Kaplan), an acquaintance who insists the deaths of the six million in the Holocaust left survivors with the splintered souls referred to in the play's title.
Into the rabbi's busy life -- where for relaxation he relies on a series of alcohol-accompanied chess games with philosophical Judge Martin Levinsky (Kenny Morris) -- come Elisa Strewliskie (Ella Dershowitz) and Harold Strewliskie (Sid Solomon), who say they are running from a man who is jeopardizing their immigrants' status by threatening to expose them to United States authorities as crooks trafficking in stolen art.
Devoting his efforts during the next weeks to helping the pair solve their dilemma, as well as involving himself in the lives of other apparent members of his congregation in troubled relationships -- as well as communing with his late wife Sarah (Lisa Bostnar) -- Rabbi Kroeller eventually commits an extreme act that he believes constitutes justice in what he's painfully come to view as an unjust universe.
Before Brooks concludes his dour look at the seemingly infinite concatenations of the psychological burdens imposed on Holocaust victims, he includes a jaw-dropping plot turn which is heralded by Countess Minassi (Bostnar, again), a well-known heroine to Jews. Her revelation brings home to Rabbi Kroeller a horrifying understanding that differentiating fact from fiction has become a tricky conundrum since World War II. And the well-meaning rabbi now seems irreparably unsettled by the Countess' compounding revelation.
Brooks has engineered the play so that , while spectators also receive a major theatrical jolt. they may also feel they've been duped a bit by Brooks by the way he's structured his plot. Perhaps he believes it unnecessary to hint at his twist earlier -- but not only does he resist that, he also stocks his narrative with deflecting subsidiary entanglements that lead to second-act rambling before the turnabout occurs. For the sake of strengthening tension and minimizing script excesses, it would be wiser to track the primary development more tautly.