'Irena's Vow' Takes Story of Unsung WWII Heroine to Broadway

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    (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
    Tovah Feldshuh, foreground, stars, with Maja Wampuszyc, left, Tracee Chimo and Gene Silvers, in a play based on a true story during the Holocaust.
By Josh Kimball, Christian Post Reporter
May 15, 2009|12:35 pm

For the past several weeks, scores of theater-goers have been wowed, tickled, and touched by a Broadway play about a Polish Catholic who saved 12 Jews by hiding them in the basement of a high-ranking Nazi officer’s house.

But overall, since it opened on March 29, “Irena’s Vow” has received mixed reviews.

While some have criticized the play’s poor handling of a potentially moving story, others have touted it as the next “Fiddler on the Roof” – the extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed Broadway production that held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost a decade and currently remains as the thirteenth longest-running show in Broadway's history.

The 90-minute play, which flashes back into the World War II era, is based on the real-life experiences of Irena Gut Opdyke (played by four-time Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh), a Polish Catholic maid who had made a vow to herself to do all she could to preserve life after witnessing a Nazi soldier smash a Jewish infant’s skull into the ground and then shoot the mother.

Over the course of two years, Opdyke protected the lives of twelve Jewish refugees who secretly fell under her care by hiding them at the house of a very prominent Nazi major, whom she worked for as the head housekeeper.

"Irena's Vow is the extraordinary true story of one woman’s choice and the twelve lives that would ultimately be saved - or lost – by her decision,” the play’s promoters say, describing Opdyke as “one of the most courageous and unsung heroines of World War II.”

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And, while the subject matter is quite serious, the play mixes in a good amount of humor, leading audiences to cry at one moment and laugh at another.

Since it premiered off-Broadway last September, “Irena’s Vow” has gone on to become the first and only play that’s ever been presented at the United Nations.

“It was the toughest audience ... because you had a room full of diplomats, people who were very busy,” recalled Dan Gordon, who wrote the play based on conversations that he had held with the real-life Opdyke before her death in 2003 at the age of 85.

“And what was extraordinary was in about five minutes, you could see everyone was caught up in it. By the end of the show, people were in tears,” he said.

The play is currently showing at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre in New York, where it will be running until at least Sept. 5.

It may also make its way to the silver screen with actress Scarlett Johansson rumored to be in discussion with producers about the lead part. Many say Johansson bears a striking resemblance to Opdyke, who was in her twenties during the events recalled in "Irena's Vow."

 

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