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BackStage West - January 20, 2005
Madeleine Shaner

After college, writer-director Emily Mann backpacked through her European heritage to the Polish village of her maternal grandmother, in an attempt to get oral histories of her family's holocaust experience. Unable to connect with her grandmother in the old woman's fractured Polish, Yiddish, and English, Mann was directed to Annulla, Mann's friend's aunt, then living in London. There's still a story to be told about Hitler's hold over the Jews of Eastern Europe, and the tales have a similarity that melds them into a universal cry of remembered pain.

Eileen De Felitta is puckish and charming as Annulla, the eponymous heroine of this picnic into a painful past. Amy Benedict, as Mann, sits quietly in a corner to hear Annulla's story, which quickly becomes a haphazard congruence of random thoughts flung into a kettle of memories. Despite the obvious symbolism, as Annulla prepares a pot of chicken soup, the vegetables she chops up and adds to her cooking pot are as real as the memories, even if sometimes the ingredients are added in the wrong order; onions are the first thing that would go into the pot, not the last. Annulla is more a philosopher than a cook, and the real stew she spends her days working on is a six-hour play about her experiences--part of her mission to form a Women's Party that would wipe out all evil in the world.

The pages of this huge oeuvre are scattered willy-nilly throughout the practical kitchen (designed by Jeff G. Rack), the way her random memories are salted through the rambling tale--out of order and only slightly incoherent, but jumping time frames so jauntily that what we don't get in coherence we get in an unexpected lift from a tale exuberantly told. Director Judy Welden keeps the play in motion, although there is a tendency to tire of the singularity of vision and very busy stream of consciousness. And to leave the theatre desperately seeking a bowl of chicken soup.