Safe Harbor | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Safe Harbor 

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SAFE HARBOR, Red Hen Productions, at Organic Theater Company. The story of the Algava family--one of only two Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Thessaloniki, Greece--could be compelling dramatic material. Illuminating a little known chapter in the history of the Holocaust, playwright Joanne Koch finds a fair amount of tension and heartbreak in the story of a promising young family pursued by Nazi soldiers, betrayed by opportunistic collaborators, and sheltered by courageous neighbors. The presence of Andy Algava (in the play, Andy narrates the family's nightmarish journey) in the opening-night audience of this world premiere, directed respectfully if perhaps too cautiously by Greg Kolack for Red Hen, was itself a testament to his family's strength and will to survive.

But Safe Harbor is marred by Koch's flimsy characterization (she divides the characters into selfless heroes and scheming villains); stiff, unnatural language more reminiscent of school assemblies than of great drama ("Never before have I had such a meager Shabbat," one character says); and an unconvincing travelogue view of Greece. Despite the looming specter of world war, one character at a New Year's gathering opines, "The rest of the world goes mad. Only here do we celebrate." Later another character remarks, "Nothing can happen to us here." Koch needs to use a lighter touch and more discriminating intelligence if she wants her play to rise above the level of an oversimplified history lesson. --Adam Langer

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