New Jersey Jewish News
A pretty girl, a beautiful play
This play is not about the Holocaust itself, but about its aftermath. It is about reconciliation for a family that is in crisis. So said Montclair resident Penny Potenz Winship in a recent discussion of A Shayna Maidel, the 1984 drama by Barbara Lebow that she is directing at the Nutley Little Theatre. The play will run for three weeks beginning March 31; the April 1 performance is a benefit for the sisterhood of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield.
Winship clearly loves A Shayna Maidel: The title means a pretty girl, which is appropriate because the play itself is so beautiful, she said. It is about being able to survive no matter what; it is also about the strong bond of family even after separation. I dont like plays without hope or meaning; this one has both.
Winship is drawn to Jewish-themed works: About five years ago, I directed a play called Kindertransport, also at the Nutley Little Theatre. Kindertransport deals with a young girl transported in 1939 from Germany to the safety of the English countryside. As in Shayna, the main character assimilates to the point of losing her Jewishness, but then it comes back to her strongly.
Winship felt strongly that A Shayna Maidel had to be imbued with a Jewish sensibility and authenticity a bit of a challenge since she, a Jew herself, is directing a cast made up entirely of non-Jews.
For some reason, there is not one Jewish person in the cast; in fact, not one Jewish person even auditioned for me, she said. So I took the cast to the West Orange home of two Holocaust survivors I met through a friend. We videotaped a session of the survivors trying to teach the cast proper pronunciation of the Yiddish and German words in the play. The cast loved it; they really gained a deeper understanding of the lines they were saying.
Winship has been involved in theater for decades. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, she owned the Penny Gate Company, an off-off-Broadway theater in New York. At Penny Gate, she produced some 30 plays. She also stage-managed a dinner theater on Staten Island in the 1960s. After moving to Montclair in the 1970s, she began working with community theaters as an avocation; her career, from which she is now retired, was in the field of medical education.
For the past 15 years or so, most of Winships directing has been at the Little Theatre. I absolutely love this place. It is very small only 48 seats but wonderful things happen here. The people here allow me to do what I love to do to direct plays with tremendous substance in them. I get to choose the plays I direct, which is an amazing gift.
Winship concluded, To me, theater is a community experience, one that teaches us about ourselves as well as the world.
Doing A Shayna Maidel has been a wonderful experience. This play in particular has things to teach us; I dont think anyone should ever forget what happened. Really, everyone should see it.
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