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|LA Times - January 21, 2005
F. Kathleen Foley
Courage in a time of terror
Three decades ago, award-winning playwright and director Emily Mann set out to record a relative's personal reminiscences of the Holocaust. In the case of her own kinswoman, language proved an insurmountable barrier, but Mann discovered the eloquent spokesperson she had been seeking in Annulla Allen, the close relative of a friend. With tape recorder in hand, Mann interviewed Annulla about her experiences as a Jew living under the shadow of the Nazis.
Mann's oral history, Annulla, being given its West Coast premiere at the Eclectic Company Theatre, plays like a transcript of those decades-old recordings. Mann herself appears as a character, although her function is subsidiary to Annulla's flowing and at times scattered narrative.
Set in 1974 London, the action unfolds in Annulla's modest kitchen -- splendidly realized in Jeff G. Rack's detailed set. Call this a meta-memory play, a reminiscence within a reminiscence in which Mann (thoughtful Amy Benedict), addressing us in the present day, looks on her mid-'70s meetings with Annulla (Eileen De Felitta), who, in turn, reflects on her past. Passing as Aryan, Annulla lived among the Nazis, even finagling her husband's release from Dachau.
Under the direction of Judy Welden, the play proves a tour de force for De Felitta, who captures the ebullience of her eponymous character in a whirlwind performance that never flags. Speaking directly to the audience, Annulla makes soup, brews tea and chatters nonstop -- particularly about her own play, a feminist treatise she feels holds the answer to the world's ills. Dramaturgically speaking, the chatter seems sometimes raw and unsynthesized, an unstructured sampling from the audio record. Despite that, Annulla remains a charming raconteuse, indomitable and appealin