A NoHo Arts theatre review of GUT, written and performed by Janet Rodgers and directed by Dan Ruth at the Whitefire Theatre’s Solofest 2024.

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of GUT, written and performed by Janet Rodgers and directed by Dan Ruth at the Whitefire Theatre’s Solofest 2024.

GUT is a story told in the first person, narrated as an epic poem by the character around which it revolves, Irena Gut Opdyke and is drawn from her autobiography, In My Hands. During WW2, Irena, a young Polish Catholic girl, saved countless Jewish lives by hiding and sustaining Jewish families in the town where she lived.  She worked as a nurse under the Russian army as well as for the German’s during their occupation and as a waitress serving the German officers in their restaurant. As a pretty blond woman, she was able to pass as inconsequential and this is why she was even able to hide Jewish families in the basement of the local German Commander’s house where she was ordered to be the housekeeper and his reluctant lover. 

Janet Rodgers plays Irena and although there are decades between Rodgers and the age Irena was in the War, she performs a magical feat and we see nothing but Irena. The play is adapted from the prose and poetry Irena wrote in the book about her life, so it is as if Irena herself were telling us her story and the truly exquisite performance by Rodgers with her grace, warmth and elegance brings us so deeply and vividly into Irena’s world I can think of no other way to experience it. 

It’s one story amongst so many others of that time. So many small miracles performed by otherwise ordinary people risking everything, not just themselves but their own families. Irena unfolds her history organically, never playing it up for dramatic purposes. The story of her heroism is told simply and gently and is deeply evocative and utterly compelling. We feel as if we stand beside her as she lies to the SS, manipulates her German Commander boss, and skilfully persuades people with much to lose and many more years than her to help her hide Jewish families in amongst the occupying army. It’s quite remarkable what a young woman with conviction and purpose can accomplish under such terrible conditions. But through Irena’s eyes, we see that she simply had no other choice. She could not have spent her time any other way than to save as many as she could. 

Courage comes in many forms. Irena Gut Opdyke, a young woman, far from her family, not sure if they were even alive, found her courage every single day as she performed miraculous feats with the help of a few. After the war, she was given the chance to move to America. Something her young heart could never have imagined was possible, and once there she made a new life for herself. 

All this before she was 25. Her story should remind us how we all must find our own solutions to the continuing chaos in our world in the hearts of the younger generations. Their ability to see through everything to what is real and true and important will be our salvation. And in the end our only hope. 

Irena’s incredible story is more relevant than ever before. One person really can change everything. Even if it is for just a few. A few is all we need sometimes to turn the tide of destruction and hate. I’m so grateful to Janet Rodgers and her wonderful director Dan Ruth for sharing this important story and for creating this inspiring and beautiful show. 

I hear that the video of this play will be available soon on The Whitefire’s archive channel. I would encourage you to watch it. I am sure you will be as moved and delighted by it as I was. Bravo Irena and bravo Janet and Dan.