Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

From Door to Door
Stage Door Theatre
Review by Cindy Pierre


Fern Katz and Ellen Murray
Photo by Carol Kassie
In the wake of the Trump era, the Women's March, the #metoo movement, and "The Handmaid's Tale," when America has seen a radical surge in feminism and fem-centric ideals, Stage Door Theatre's production of James Sherman's From Door to Door is in stark contrast to what the culture is shaping into today. A heartwarming and comedic drama about the experiences and traditions of three generations of women in a Jewish family, From Door to Door may go against current type, but it stands as a wonderful exploration of how family grooms and nurtures us, even if we become a diluted or muted version of what we could have been.

Set in and around Chicago, From Door to Door is the tale of grandmother Bessie (Fern Katz), a strong woman who fled persecution in Europe to migrate to America, her daughter Mary (Elli Murray), a dutiful and faithful wife and mom who never realized her dreams to become an artist, and Mary's daughter Deborah (Marah Lieberman), a successful, spirited artist with a struggling marriage. Set on a sparsely furnished stage of a few chairs, a few floor mats, and a table, the lack of furnishings and props allow patrons to focus on the characters and the story alone. There are no bells and whistles to distract or appease us. Apart from a simple open door and year stamps projected in the background, the scenic design is as simple and straightforward as the lives we see.

Opening in present-day 1999 and then rolling back to review the major events from 1936-1999, the joy and comfort in watching From Door to Door comes from witnessing how virtues, vices and mannerisms carry on from generation to generation, even if they are not always manifested in the same way. As Bessie is echoed in Mary, and Mary is echoed in Deborah, it is fascinating to see the influence that each generation has on the one that follows it. From dashed hopes to hopes fulfilled, Sherman's well-written play interweaves the stories that make up this bloodline to marvelous effect. From Bessie's adherence to gender roles to Deborah's inability to carry them well, the play will be familiar and relatable to many.

The stellar performances of this talented trio of actors contribute to what makes this production so endearing and special. Elli Murray's Mary is the anchor and glue of the family, holding everyone together even if it comes at a high price. Despite some disappointments and frustrations with the choices that she feels were forced upon her, Mary remains a constant, which is visually represented by the same dress, wig and shoes that she wears throughout the ages. While costume designer Jerry Sturdefant provides different outfits for Bessie and Deborah during the various phases of their lives, Mary remains the same elderly character that she is in 1999—a powerful visual commentary about her lot in life.

As Bessie, a woman who harbors more hurt and pain than she cares to talk about, Fern Katz is sensational. From Bessie's traditional philosophies about what women should be doing and the one-liners that Sherman has penned for this character, Katz has great material to embody, and embody she does. She is a hilarious matriarch with many powerful moments, but her take on Fiddler on the Roof is the most memorable. Her rapport with Murray is also a theatrical dream.

Though Lieberman is not on stage as often as the other actresses, she always makes her mark when she appears. Perhaps Sherman has not written her in as many scenes as the others because Deborah represents the newest generation, the generation that is still being charted and has very little history. Unlike the archetypes Bessie and Mary, who have been formed and perpetuated for a long time, Deborah is not as well known. However, Lieberman's lively performance as a "new" woman with a beloved career, while trying to retain some of the older qualities like cooking well, is charming.

Sharp direction by Michael Leeds not only allows the trio to make great use of the stage, but it allows sound engineer Jose-Luis Ramos to punctuate the scenes well with invisible props like closing doors, pouring water, and canvases and brushes. You might wonder why some of the props aren't just included at first, but as the 90-minute show progresses, the acting is so clean that you won't miss them. Ardhean Landhuis also provides subtle but effective lighting. From the hopeful lavender color that lights the stage before the drama begins to the TV screen that is represented by light alone, Landhuis' work is perfect for the production.

From Door to Door is not only a reflection on how the women in a family have pushed forward in time, it's also an invitation for patrons to think about how they have been forged. What has worked well and what can still be changed? While leaning forward in your chair with interest and laughing during the light moments, you may find yourself examining and thinking about modifications for your own life.

From Door to Door, through July 1st, 2018, at Stage Door Theatre, 8036 West Sample Road, Coral Springs FL. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information please call 954-344-776 or visit www.stagedoorfl.org.

Cast:
Fern Katz: Bessie
Marah Lieberman: Deborah
Elli Murray: Mary

Crew:
Stage Mgr./Sound Engineer: Jose-Luis Ramos
Prop Design: Jemeelah Bailey
Lighting Designer: Ardean Landhuis
Set Design: Stage Door Scenic
Costumes: Jerry Sturdefant
Asst. Stage Mgr./Backstage: Stephanie LoVerde
Set Construction: Stage Door Scenic
Projections: Jose-Luis Ramos
Director: Michael Leeds


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