TALKING WITH ANGELS

Performer Shelley Mitchell's one-woman show is adapted from the diaries of Gitta Mallasz. Being a childhood athlete and Olympic swimming contender for Hungary gave her the status to pull off the remarkable stunt of managing a shirt factory near Budapest in 1944-45 that was actually a secret refuge for Jewish women hiding from German Nazis, and the even more notorious Hungarian Nazis. This is a long way from The Diary of Anne Frank, however. The core of the memoir is the story of Mallasz's camaraderie with three nonpracticing Jewish friends (Mallasz was not Jewish) — one of whom received visitations from a series of "angels" offering psychic and spiritual counsel to the quartet as the Holocaust cut its swath across Europe. In the performance, Mitchell portrays the elderly Mallasz at a lecture hall in 1991, ambling and speaking haltingly with wisps of humor — a portrayal with such leisurely, lifelike timing, its antitheatricality insists that the audience enter the old woman's zone. It's both an imposition and a prerequisite for absorbing what's to come — a channeling of specters for which Mitchell transforms into something between a dancer and a shaman. The guiding spirits are often impish, gentle and curt in a single breath. Nothing "airy fairy" about these angels, Mallasz rightly notes. Tomomi Itakura's set includes a downstage menorah and a translucent cream curtain that plays nicely off Robert Ted Anderson's tender lighting design and the unobtrusive sound design by Scot Thiessen. (Archival recordings of Hitler, and radio news broadcasts of the time, are used so sparingly as to prevent this play's descent into melodrama.) The performance does not invite easy emotions; rather, it's an intellectually, spiritually and poetically rigorous journey into the larger meanings of life, death and incomprehensible malice. Its excruciating beauty derives from its simplicity, its purity and the veracity of its harrowing stories, yet the venue is far too claustrophobic for a conjuring of this scale. Robin Fontaine directs soulfully, and meticulously. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 1. Continues through Feb. 10, 2008


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