"The Housewives of Mannheim" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project is an insightful, often funny and dramatic look into the lives of four women in an apartment house in Brooklyn in 1944. Jonathan Rest directs this wonderfully detailed, realized and documented sketch of an important part of America’s history and the effects that the war had on these mostly ordinary families.
In a way the members of this quartet are all at least initially defined by their relationship to husband’s.
There’s the coupon-clipping, contest slogan entering Alice, Joanne Dubach, who’s waiting for her man to come home right back to the life they were living when he left.
The beautiful May, Hillary Hittner, is also waiting and looking forward to her husband’s return, but she actually sees that this will curtail a certain freedom that she’s come to take for granted in his absence.
The third of the young marrieds is the feisty, trash talking, business woman Billy, Sarah Feldman, whose husband is out of the war and right there.
Fourth is the just arrived older, sad and formal Sophie, Kate Braun, a Jewish refugee from Europe, whose husband died shortly after they arrived in the U.S.
The women come to act like sisters in this first full production of Alan Brody’s Reva Shiner Award winning play and that means that emotions are freed to show in their full range. The yearning innocence of May leads to cruelty as it seduces the friendship of Sophie and the open love of Billy. Sophie’s wisdom is potent but can’t protect her or Billy. Billy’s aching declaration of love is initially coldly disdained. Alice becomes empowered as the figure of stability, but it’s a sterile stability of prejudice and hate.
Finally, under Sophie and Billy’s verbal pounding, May does move from her frightened retreat toward becoming the bigger person that she seems to be meant to be in a moment that seems to bring even Alice back into the group.
Brody’s play moves into some scenes with rather wrenching and unprepared suddenness, and sometimes they are preachy, but their moving quality prevails. Thursday night’s audience applauded even the most wrenching individual scenes for the sheer virtuosity of the actors and the direction.
Alan Brody’s involving drama, "The Housewives of Mannheim" plays (this Friday and Saturday at eight with a two o’clock matinee on Sunday. There are additional performances) * Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 23rd, 24th and 25th.
You can find an interview with director Jonathan Rest and actress Sarah Feldman on our Arts Interviews page .