Written by 1:58 am Laguna beach, Laguna Playhouse, Review, Theater, Uncategorized

A Shayna Maidel @ Laguna Playhouse – Review

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle/Tethos

Written by Patrick Chavis

In the case of a theatrical performance, bigger is not always better (don’t tell that to Texas though). It depends on the story you’re trying to tell. Sometimes, a vast space can create unique and complex challenges. I watched A Shayna Maidel, playing now at the Laguna Playhouse from March 13 – 31. The ample space on stage at the Laguna Playhouse seemed smaller and more compact than usual, closer but also expansive at the same time.

Not only did the designers succeed in telling the story through the setting, but they also enhanced the performances without getting in the way. This intricately directed piece from David Ellenstein is an intimate portrait of a family dealing with the ramifications of the Holocaust.

Josh Odsess-Rubin, Eden Malyn Zarah Mahler, and Joel Swetow star in the Laguna Playhouse production of A SHAYNA MAIDEL, written by Barbara Lebow and directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.


A Shayna Maidel centers on two sisters, but it is essentially a play about a family and loss. It’s set in 1946 after World War II, but there are many flashbacks. Rose Weiss (Eden Malyn) is a young woman living in New York City. She meets her sister Lusia (Zarah Mahler) for the first time as an adult. Lusia and Rose were separated decades before. Rose, at that point a baby, went with her father to live in America. Baby Lusia and Mama (Samantha Klein) remained behind in Poland, with plans to come over later.  This never happens since the Nazis take Poland, and both Rose and Mama are put in concentration camps. The play chronicles their lives before and after the horrors of the Holocaust.

What makes A Shayna Maidel so distinctive as a story about Holocaust survivors is that playwright Barbara Lebow does exceptional work showing us what the immigrant experience looks like for so many people. Part of it is because of Lusia’s character, and the other half is because of the actress Zarah Mahler.


Lusia doesn’t speak or understand much English, so many scenes are about Lusia and her American sister, Rose, who knows very little Yiddish, trying to communicate and get to know each other. Instead of using a younger actress to play Lusia in the part, Mahler plays both roles. In the case of this play, it’s such a brilliant idea. Through the flashbacks, Lusia speaks English, but we, the audience, understand she’s speaking Yiddish. For the first time, we see a Lusia not tortured by the atrocities of the Nazis, and we see who she is when she can express herself fully in her language. While Mahler plays one character in this play, it’s like she plays three different people at different times, but all with a center of who she is. It’s a phenomenal performance of a well-conceived character.

Set Design:

Stephen Gifford’s set design was everything this story needed and more. It’s early, but at the moment, it’s one of the more impressive builds I’ve seen on stage this year. It’s layered in every sense. The front of the stage was covered in a wooden paneled floor. The house is well-kept but with an old-fashioned vintage look. At the back of the stage, a stretched-out background of clouds is lit with different colored lighting.


This is the third time I have been really impressed with the lighting work for a production. Afterward, I looked at my booklet, and under Lighting Designer, it read Jared A. Sayeg. I had to laugh a little bit, but it’s no laughing matter. In my experience,  Sayeg doesn’t miss, and this play was no exception.

The lighting in this show was beautifully rendered.


There is very little action or dramatic conflict to get your blood rushing, but it makes up for it with well-developed characters and interesting flashbacks. This ensemble put in the work, and it shows.

9.2 Overall
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Set & Design9.1
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Exceptional Show! OCR Recommended! March 13 – 31, 2024.

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