When CBS on June 7 televises the Tony Awards for the best of Broadway, Tovah Feldshuh, lead actress in Irena's Vow, will not be a nominee. Her absence from the list was a leading omission, according to New York City Theater.
But that this show with a Christian, pro-life heroine is playing on Broadway at all is remarkable. Feldshuh plays Irena Gut Opdyke, a young Polish woman who sees Jews in her town massacred by machine gun and vows that she'll try to save every life she can from then on. Working as a housekeeper to a German commandant, she hides 12 Jews for years in the cellar of his home. You think the playwright shouldn't make up such an obviously incredible story. Astoundingly, it's true, as attested to by those she saved. A memorial to the young woman now stands in Jerusalem next to that of Oskar Schindler of Schindler's List fame.
And saving every life means saving every life. When one of the women Irena is hiding becomes pregnant, the hiders vote that she should have an abortion and that Irena should smuggle to them drugs for the killing. Irena says no-every life should be saved. The leader of the hiders insists: They voted, democratically. The baby will cry. The Germans will hear. All will die. Irena finally gives in but by then her preaching has changed hearts: No abortion. The baby lives.
This play reportedly is on its way to becoming a movie, and with a bigger canvas it may reach its ultimate dramatic potential: Irena's Vow on stage sometimes has too much telling and not enough showing. But a powerful ending leaves few eyes dry, I suspect, and if you're heading to New York it's well worth seeing. Feldshuh is terrific, the play is a reality show, and the message of faith and life is rarely proclaimed on major stages.