For the second time in recent seasons, Off Broadway has commemorated the World War II heroism of a young Hungarian Jew. Author-director David Schechter and actress Lori Wilner have fashioned the writings of Hannah Senesh into a biographical tribute of manifest sincerity and dedication. The Cherry Lane Theatre's production of ``Hannah Senesh'' documents the personal adventure that became a fatal ordeal. Having achieved her ambition to join a Palestine kibbutz, Hannah (Miss Wilner) volunteers for a rescue mission into Yugoslavia with British paratroopers. That mission accomplished, the young volunteers plan to return secretly to Nazi-occupied Hungary for the purpose of rescuing fellow Jews.
Hannah is captured, tortured, tried, and executed. It remains for Hannah's mother (also played by Miss Wilner) to describe the fortitude and gallantry Hannah displayed in her final hours.
Although intrinsically compelling and authentic, ``Hannah Senesh'' suffers eventually from the limitations of its format -- a monologue consisting for the most part of recited diary excerpts. To the extent possible, the very appealing Miss Wilner transcends these limitations even as she rises to the emotional and physical challenges of the role.
As Hannah shares her confidences -- and changes from one to another of David Woolard's costumes -- the actress traces the heroine's transformation from precocious but uncertain teen-ager to dedicated Zionist pioneer and finally to freedom fighter.
Meanwhile, through Hannah's writings, the play reflects the surrounding events of a terrible era: from the growth of Hungary's legislated anti-Semitism and the coming of war to the crimes of Hitler's ``final solution.''
The simple but imaginative setting designed by Jennifer Gallagher and beautifully lighted by Vivien Leone creates the illusion of the numerous locales in which Hannah's adventure unfolds.
Incidental music by Steven Lutvak, Elizabeth Swados, and Mr. Schechter enhance the lyrical quality of this tribute to idealism and courage.
Like ``As Is,'' an Off Broadway production bound for Broadway, Larry Kramer's ``The Normal Heart'' deals with the effects of a malady known as AIDS (the medical acronym for ``acquired immune deficiency syndrome''). Written in anguish and anger, the new drama at the Public/Luesther Hall features documentation, strident polemic, propaganda, and a doomed homosexual romance. Mr. Kramer particularizes the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic in the relationship between his two central characters, a novelist (Brad Davis) and a New York Times reporter (D. W. Moffett).
The author is intent on indicting those in the public and private sectors whom he charges with having failed to respond promptly and adequately to the AIDS threat. While censuring governmental, medical, and press establishments, Mr. Kramer reserves his sharpest scorn and condemnation for New York Mayor Edward I. Koch.
In such a one-sided view, there is no opportunity for rebuttal. ``The Normal heart'' further weakens its appeal by making its gay-activist protagonist (Mr. Davis) such an abrasive fanatic that he is finally expelled from the very support committee he co-founded.
``The Normal Heart'' presents a harrowing case history along with its sweeping (and sometimes questionable) generalizations. Mr. Kramer attempts unsuccessfully to combine a plea for responsible official awareness and treatment of a tragic health disaster with a propaganda pitch for society's unreserved acceptance of homosexual life styles.
The play is acted with conviction under Michael Lindsay-Hogg's direction.