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Talking With Angels 

A Hungarian athlete's efforts to save Jews during WWII – and the spirits who helped her

Wednesday, Jan 14 2004
Gitta Mallasz was a Hungarian athlete and swimmer who tried to protect a whole sewing factory of Jewish women during World War II. Her story is reminiscent of Schindler's List -- a phony industrial setup intended to fool the Nazis -- but the bulk of what she tells in her unusual chronicle, Talking With Angels, elaborates on voices she heard in séancelike sessions with her secular Jewish friends, Hanna and Lili. Hanna channeled four voices, or "angels," who gave wise, transformative advice both before and during the Nazi occupation of Budapest. Jungians fascinated by transpersonal psychology take Mallasz seriously. The angels' conversation is very much in line with Jung, and Gitta herself, as a narrator, is charmingly down-to-earth. Shelley Mitchell has been working on a stage version of Mallasz's book since at least 1999. An early, multicharacter effort was awkward, but for the last two years Mitchell has performed a pared-down and rather beautiful solo version, which is on again now at her own theater space, the Actors Center of San Francisco. Mitchell folds herself into the person of Mallasz as an old lady in a crocheted shawl, telling her story in a matter-of-fact Hungarian accent, with no patience for "airy-fairy stuff." (She thinks of her angels as flat reality.) The portrait of Mallasz is a tour de force; Mitchell is in control of every twitch. Her transformation into Hanna channeling the angels is less compelling, and the angels do perhaps too much talking. Their advice is sententious, if hard to argue with; a little goes a long way. "For those who wonder, wonders appear," they say. "If you don't always give, you wither." It's elevating stuff, but onstage the proverbs pale next to Mallasz's wrenching adventure against the Nazis.


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