A New Play Tells the Amazing Story of Hannah Senesh
For her Off-Broadway debut, Lexi Rabadi knew it wouldn’t be easy. She had to portray an iconic figure whom she’d never heard of, learn to speak in a Hungarian dialect, sing in Hebrew, have scenes where she played someone twice her age, and memorize lines for a one-woman show that would go on for 90 minutes.
In Hannah Senesh: A Play With Music and Song at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, Rabadi nails the role of a woman who comes to the decision that she must risk her life for the cause she believes in.
Written and directed by David Schechter and produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the play is based on the poems and diary of Senesh, who emigrated from Hungary to Palestine in 1939.
In 1944, after joining the British Army, she parachuted into Yugoslavia with the intent of helping partisans and Jews, and finding her mother. Despite learning that Hitler had occupied Hungary, she crossed the border, was caught, and was killed by a firing squad at the age of 23.
Rabadi, 25, said that “the only place where I felt myself putting pressure on the outcome of this process was just to tell her story, do it justice, and pass on the legacy in the right way.”
The Pace University graduate said she believes Senesh’s story should be taught in schools because of the heroic nature and courage of the real-life character.
“The most admirable quality is that she’s able to find herself in this world that seemingly has lost its mind, and the whole rest of the world is either hiding from fear or acting out of hate,” Rabadi said.
Rabadi added that while she isn’t sure if she would be brave enough to risk her life as Senesh did, she connected to the character, who wanted to bring justice to the world, and also see her homeland.
Rabadi, whose father grew up in Jordan, was able to see where he lived.
“It was absolutely unforgettable,” she said. “I always heard my dad tell stories. He lived there until he was 17. … Being there was the first time it shifted everything into focus. My father grew up here on this matted down dirt ground under this blazing sun, in a one-room house and a one-room school. This is part of his story, which makes it inevitably my story. The part where Hannah first steps foot in Palestine, I always think of walking down the streets of Jordan where my father grew up for the first time, feeling that this was where I belong. These are my people.”
Rabadi said she doesn’t prescribe to any religion, but is spiritual. She also sings in the play, and has the voice of an angel.
Rabadi throws herself into the role full-throttle, and in one scene where she does perfect push-ups, sit-ups, and runs in place, we can be transported to a world where she is trying to prepare herself for something that nobody can be truly prepared for.
This is a play to salute. Go see it. You won’t be sorry.