Staging the brief and heroic career of a 'freedom fighter'; Hannah; Play with music and dance. Text by Israel Eliraz, music by Mark Kopytman. Choreo-graphed and directed by Anna Sokolow. Starring Blanche Baker, Lois Smith, Stephen Lang.
New York — A stage tribute comprising movement, music, and dramatic fragments is commemorating the brief career of Hannah Semesh, a heroine of the Holocaust. According to a program note for ''Hannah,'' at the Harold Clurman Theater, the youthful Hungarian Jewess left a loving family atmosphere in Budapest at the early signs of anti-Semitism. Settling in what was then Palestine, Hannah and several kibbutz friends formed a partisan group that parachuted behind the lines of Nazi-occupied Hungary. Their mission was to rescue as many Jews as possible. Captured by the Hungarian Gestapo, she was imprisoned, tortured, and executed at the age of 23 - four months before World War II ended.
''Hannah'' employs excerpts from its heroine's diaries as well as letters and documentary narrative to dramatize the short, intense life of a courageously committed young woman. Spanning the years 1937-44, the docu-dance-drama by Israel Eliraz comes most movingly into focus in the person and performance of Blanche Baker in the title role. The love-ly Miss Baker realizes Han-nah's qualities of selfless dedication and bravery that transformed the romantic fervor of a young girl into the determination and commitment of a freedom fighter.
As the central figure in the swirling and sometimes violent patterns of movement created by director-choreographer Anna Soko-low, Hannah becomes the essential heroic figure - the individual who challenges a ruthless superior force and who resists it until the end.
Using a blend of script, mime, dance, and music, ''Hannah'' approximates its high purpose while not fully achieving the impact its creators intended. The kibbutz folk dancing is strong and beautiful. The cruelty, decadence, and corruption of Nazism take on the features of grotesque apparition in the Sokolow choreography and its performance by the Players' Project Dance Company.
Yet ''Hannah'' never quite escapes the limitations of its symbolically embellished format. What might have been powerful drama remains somehow abstract. The mixture of elements does not compensate for the lack of a structured dramatic text.
There is admirable acting by Lois Smith as Hannah's baffled mother, Stephen Lang as the Nazi interrogator, and Steve Pesola as Hannah's brother. Wolfgang Roth's production design includes a series of effectively realistic and abstract projections. Ruth Morley's costumes and Edward Effron's lighting enhance the theatricality of the project. The musical score, an integral part of the concept , was composed by Mark Kopytman.