Waltzing in the Garden of Forgiveness, Imago Ensemble, at Wing & Groove Theatre. Writer-director Susan Strong-Dowd dedicates her play to the late Fritzie Sahlins. And there are some parallels between Liesel, its protagonist, and the first wife of Bernie Sahlins, founder of Second City. The piece goes lickety-split in story-theater style through Liesel’s life, from watching the Nazis shoot her grandmother to betrayal by her husband, a stint working with abused children, and death from cancer. It’s hard to slide downhill from the Holocaust, and maybe that’s the point–that Liesel aims to be as unhappy as she thinks she deserves given that she survived while others died. But it would take a much more skillful playwright to bring out that sophisticated point.
The only light in this agonizing tunnel is Liesel’s relationship with Kate, one of the kids she “saved”–and even it’s marred by Kate’s rivalry with Liesel’s daughter Cheryl. As Kate, Shannon Neubauer stands out through the strength of her lines as well as of her performance. It may be that Kate is the author’s surrogate, and if so her filial affection can scarcely be doubted, but it’s going too far to give the part of Cheryl to an utterly inept actress. Strong-Dowd has a ton of work left to do–on structure, characterization, and dialogue–to offer a true homage, if that’s what this is.