Entertainment » Theatre

To Paint The Earth (NYMF)

by Susan Reiter
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Oct 1, 2008
To Paint The Earth (NYMF)

The New York Musical Theatre Festival offers a cornucopia of shows whose tone favors satire, parody or camp. The Paint the Earth, set in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940 to 1943, is definitely an anomaly among this roster. It is earnest and often stirring.

Its intention of bringing to life a devastating moment in history and honoring the people who discovered tremendous courage and determination in the face of terrible odds can only be admired. Whether the daily life and increasing militancy of the Jews confined to the Ghetto is a tale readily told through a musical is not a certainty, but "To Paint the Earth," thanks to some powerful scenes, makes its case with dignified persuasiveness.

The need to introduce a considerable number of characters and dramatize their daily existence -- carrying on mundane tasks within their ominous and uncertain world, while acquiring the defiance and skill to foment an armed uprising -- leads to a broad focus in the early part of this ambitious musical, which gathers power in its later scenes. Central to the tale is Chaim (Scott Richard Foster), a painter whose initial detachment gives way to bold action as he becomes acquainted with the outspoken, activist Mona (Jane Pfitsch), a 17-year-old who undertakes smuggling missions.

Mona, her mother and sister try to sustain some normalcy by focusing on the sewing jobs they must complete, and maintaining their belief that the father (who we hear early on, ominously) is safe somewhere "in the east." Chaim's discovery, in the second, act, of the truth behind the blandly comforting letters received by families like Mona's is one of the show's more devastating moments.

The score by Jonathan Portera (music) and Daniel Frederick Levin (book and lyrics) throbs with dramatic urgency, using frequent syncopation. The plaintive melodies of more introspective songs such as "Sewing Song" (beautifully performed by Robin Skye as Mona's mother) and "Time" convey the high stakes of the lives of these people, but the authors skillfully skirt sentimentality. The interweaving voices and open harmonies of the ensemble numbers have a searing power, and Michael Bush's spare, functional staging -- making resonant use of wooden chairs -- serves the material admirably.

Performed as part of New York Musical Theatre Festival at 37 Arts (Theater C), Sept. 22 - Oct. 1, 2008.

Susan Reiter is a NYC-based freelance journalist who covers dance for New York Press and writes about the performing arts for The Los Angeles Times, Playbill, Back Stage and other publications.


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