Cyma’s Story

First produced for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival 1999
By Theater for the New City and The Garage

Directed by Lisa Marjorie Barnes
Cyma………………………..…………….Barbara Kahn
Vocals ……………………………….…….Dora Libson
Costume designer… ………………..…….Andy Wallach
Technical consultant…………………..……Tammy Rose
Flyer/program design……….Virginia Asman, Illuminage
Photo Services……………………………..……..Joe Bly

Excerpt: Cyma’s photo studio in Shoshoni, Wyoming. 1939.


(writing a letter) September 5, 1939. Dearest Malka, “There are cowboys and Indians on the streets of Shoshoni. And walking past them on Saturday, you can see Jews on the way to shul–both men and women. In shul, there is no curtain between them. It’s called reform. (to the audience) You thought maybe there were no Jews in Wyoming? There were Jews in Wyoming long before I arrived. I was told it was a Jew who invented the ten-gallon hat. That’s the big one they wear in all the western movies. (back to writing letter) “I hope you liked the photographs I sent you of myself and my friend Rachel from the rodeo.” I never met anyone who likes to have her picture taken as much as Rachel.”

        She examines photos, selects several and puts them aside.

“These photos are from my new studio. It’s larger than the other, and I have more settings for the customers to choose. I also take photographs for the newspaper. And many photos of Rachel.”

(To audience) Rachel is truly brave. What she went through and still to have such love of life. She was an orphan since very young. Her parents left her money for her dowry. She used the money to buy a sponsor to come to America. For people who are alone and desperate, there is always someone offering a better life for the right price.

Rachel rescued me from loneliness; I rescued her from the runners. That’s how we met. I was already living in New York. I worked for a photographer, and I volunteered at a home for immigrant girls. The runners worked for the factory owners. They went to Ellis Island to look for young women who arrived alone with no one to meet them. Or they worked with the agents in Europe who sold false names to people without relatives here. They pretended to be the cousin or brother, so immigration would release the girl, and the girls ended up instead in the sweatshops working like slaves…or worse even.

We would go to Ellis Island to rescue the girls. Or sometimes immigration sent the girls to us if they saw it in time. One day, when it was my turn to go to Ellis Island, there was little Rachel, all alone, standing by the gate, her papers clutched in one hand, a cloth bag in the other–a real greene. Just then, I spotted the runner. I knew his face from other times. We called him Valentino because he was handsome like an actor. He turned to Rachel, removed his hat and bowed. She gave him the most radiant smile, and I started screaming in English, in Yiddish, in Russian, “Leave my cousin alone! Loz mayn shvesterkind tsu ru!* Ostav’te kuzinu v pokoye!”* He ran away, and there stood Rachel, looking at me like I was a madwoman.

Every week when I write to Malka and Libby, I write about Rachel. Especially about her stories. Her wonderful stories. But never yet an answer from them. The war, the revolution, the civil war–I don’t know if I have a family. That pain stays with you always. Other pain, I’ll get over. (determined) I’ll make myself forget the other pain.

All these years in America, in Wyoming with Rachel, at night when memories came to me, she comforted me, but she never asked me why I screamed in my sleep, why I cried. And I never spoke of it. I was afraid the ghosts of Europe would haunt my life with her. Well, it seems they are still very busy, and it’s time for me to deal with them.


Sunday, July 18th, 2010, 3pm
Tickets $18

Cherry Lane Studio Theater
38 Commerce Street
(off 7th Ave., Greenwich Village)
New York, NY 10014