By Myra Chanin
Moses Man, a musical drama, is an act of homage from Deborah Haber to her parents, Kalman and Lily Haber. The production depicts their indomitable spirit of survival and chronicles their perilous nine-year journey from post-Anschluss Vienna to Italy, Cyprus, Palestine and Africa before finding a home and freedom in the US. The script combines past and present. The past is represented by survivor Opa, i.e., Haber’s father Kalman, who is sharing the story of his survival with the present, via his grandson Moshe who is curating an exhibit about his grandfather’s Holocaust journey. The past is represented by a young Opa, called Avi, and the people who shared his journey, including his wife and eventually their child. But something is missing. There is too much of a dependence on facts and not enough on imagination. Sticking to facts is a problem when you have to depict the different journeys of so many people going to so many places. The most touching journey, at least for a while, the tragic and dramatic escape of Avi’s brother, the unconventional Freddy, to Belgium and ultimately to Auschwitz becomes a series of letters to his brother and sister-in-law.
Now, I’m as Jewish as they come, and usually a mark for anything with a mark of Jewishness, but soon after the beginning of the second act I started checking my watch. The play is a bit long. To me it lacked dramatic discrimination. It relied too much on what actually happened to too many people. It seemed to me like a manufactured play, complete with all the seemingly right buttons but no real emotional hook. Most of the music did not connect to my neshoma – that’s Yiddish for soul. The cast worked very hard and did a great job under the circumstances, with trite lyrics and a superficial plot. I know that’s how everything happened but that don’t make it art. For me, the emotional highpoint of the production were the feelings and bond projected by and between Opa (Kevin McGuire) and Moshe (Evan Davis) for each other.
I think Moses Man shows promise, but needs simplification, maybe even needs to be rethought. Maybe the best plan would be to rewind the wool and redesign the quilt.
July 8 – July 13, 2015 -New York Musical Theater Festival
Book & Lyrics by Deborah Haber
Music by Casey Filiaci
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
At The Pershing Square Signature Center