For a one-person show, what you need foremost is a character. Meet Annulla. A warm, spirited older woman with an energy that belies her years and her difficult past, and the eponym of the Eclectic Company's new production, written by Emily Mann.
"Annulla: An Autobiography" tells the story of Annulla Allen, a woman born in Lvov, Galicia, who survived the Holocaust by passing as Aryan, and eventually immigrated to London. Mann, who received a Tony nomination for "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years," met Allen 30 years ago, while working with her college friend on a project collecting oral histories of Holocaust survivors. She first became interested in the project out of a desire to learn her own maternal grandmother's tale of survival. But, like many immigrants of her generation, Mann's grandmother spoke Polish, Yiddish and English, but none of them fluently.
Allen, then, was Mann's friend's aunt, and unlike Mann's grandmother, Allen had a language for telling her story. She'd even written a play herself.
We meet Allen in her London flat, much like Mann did herself. Allen (played by Eileen De Felitta) bustles about, preparing chicken soup for her sister and tea for her guests (us), and generally refuses to sit still. As she flits, she talks to us. We learn of her accomplished family, some of whom survived the Holocaust and others of whom perished. We learn how she survived, how she saved her husband who was sent to Dachau and of her heartache at having to send her son to live with friends in Switzerland until the war was over. We hear her philosophies on why women should rule the world ("If there was a global matriarchy there could be no more evil") and about how she survived cancer, as well.
The play serves as a survivor's testimony, but more than that, shows us a whole person and a whole life, something survivors are not always able to convey when telling their own stories. "Annulla" speaks for Mann's grandmother, and for all those who cannot.
"Annulla" plays Thurs.-Sun., through Feb. 26. $12-$18. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-3003.