'Shadows' of the past at Theater J

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

More than 25 years ago, Ari Roth began writing a play. Now after going through rewriting, workshops and readings, that play has emerged at Theater J, where Roth is the artistic director, as "Andy and the Shadows."

Roth's semiautobiographical drama is about a young man named Andy Glickstein (Alexander Strain) who loves his fiancee, Sarah (Veronica del Cerro). But Andy is not ready for marriage, tortured by a feeling that he has not suffered enough, as his parents suffered escaping from Nazi Germany.

He insists on making a film that will honor his literary and film heroes. More important, he wants to pay homage to his mother, Raya (Jennifer Mendenhall), a woman he has put on a pedestal all his life.

Andy has two sisters, Amy (Colleen Delany) and Tammy (Kimberly Gilbert). They, too, are haunted by their parents' stories of survival in World War II. Amy joins the Israel Defense Forces to "focus her energies outward," while Tammy goes to Thailand to work with Cambodian refugees. Like Andy, they are extremely sensitive to suffering in the world.

Onstage
'Andy and the Shadows'
» Where: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW
» When: Through May 5
» Info: $15 to $60; 800-494-8497; washingtondcjcc.org

There are many extraordinary moments in "Andy and the Shadows," the most stunning of them involving Andy's mother as a young girl. And there are many frightening moments, for instance when Andy's father (Stephen Patrick Martin) is near death and it seems he may succumb before he and Andy reconcile. Those events are moving and credible.

But there are also less legitimate events. Andy's adolescent refusal to commit to his fiancee because he has not achieved his purpose in life is suspect in itself. That attitude seems more of an intellectual concept bandied about by Andy to protect himself, rather than a heartfelt motivation for inaction.

There is some serious comedy in "Andy and the Shadows," which is nicely woven into the dialogue of the play. The humor is sharp, incisive and, as the excellent Strain portrays Andy, more than a little manic and obsessive.

The play is capably directed by Daniella Topol, whose sterling cast creates an intense constellation of people surrounding the central star, Andy.

The set, by Luciana Stecconi, is a wooden scaffold that creates a platform above the stage, and various spaces below the platform, depicting the family's cellar, for instance. The characters themselves wheel in or carry set pieces.

In his notes on "Andy and the Shadows," Roth writes: "[E]very one of us shares memory, wrestles with it, and thinks about its meaning ... to our present lives in different ways." It's refreshing to find a playwright who is willing to tackle the past and its familial myths by searching for the truth rather than for just another dysfunctional family.

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