As the play opens, a depressed Mary (Pamela Vanderpool) is visited by her daughter Deborah (Lisa Rosenhagen), who delivers a canvas and easel in an attempt to bring Mary out of her funk. She might recover a latent talent for art.
The play's title, “From Door to Door” is related to a phrase in a Hebrew prayer book: “l'dor v dor,” from generation to generation, and focuses on Mary's memories of her interactions with her mother, Bessie, and daughter, Debbie.
In the background, grandma Bessie's ghost hovers (Kathryn Gray) and when Mary tells her about the painting, she repeats an earlier reaction: “There are no girl artists,” a position that kept Mary from attending art school/college, although she was an excellent student. “Dreams do not pay the rent or buy the food … The world is a dangerous place … The papa makes money, the mama buys food, the daughter helps the mama, Bernard goes to school.”
“On the other side,” she declares, marriages are arranged. This is in response to her granddaughter's marriage announcement. She also has old-fashioned ideas about caring for a pregnant woman. Her pronouncements bring a laugh from the audience, but are part of a generational pattern that her daughter and granddaughter don't accept well.
“Now that I can do what I want to, I can't remember what it was,” Mary sighs after years of complying with the wishes of others.
The play covers the history of 65 years — from 1935 to 2000 — and is a story that applies to generations of women everywhere. Traditions are observed and forgotten, expectations are frustrated, new ways added to the family context.
Director Richard Pegg, himself an immigrant from England, designed the set which, with its collection of doors and picture frames, suggests various residences and generations over the years. This family moved often for a better rent, perhaps with a deal for papa to help with maintenance. The title applies here too.
Jewish playwright James Sherman, a Chicago writer and teacher, said in a talkback on Oct. 14 that he wrote the play for his mother and that Bessie and her Max were modeled after his European immigrant grandparents. He added that he had been in Seoul, South Korea, and a woman there said Bessie was just like her grandmother.
The three actresses, Kathryn Gray, Pamela Vanderpool and Lisa Rosenhagen, talked about preparing for this play. Only Rosenhagen is Jewish and she did not do a traditional Bat Mitzvah, she said. She did share memories and family customs with her fellow cast members and they had a Yiddish coach. (Rosenhagen's daughter is going to Hebrew School and embracing her Jewish heritage.)
Gray, who is an expert in dialects, had the older woman's speech, mannerisms and rhythms perfected. The script was well-researched and written throughout. Note that scenes do not always occur in a linear manner, so the audience has to shift gears at times.
“From Door to Door” is an insightful look at family life, well directed and acted.
One needs to note the Mizel Arts and Culture Center's schedule when planning a ticket buy.
“From Door to Door” plays through Nov. 10 in the Pluss Theatre at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the Jewish Community Center, 350 S. Dahlia St., Denver. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, 9; 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 27, Nov. 3, 10. Tickets: $20-$25, 303-316-6360, maccjcc.org.