When last we saw Eve Adams, the intrepid Jewish bookseller at the center of Barbara Kahn’s play, “The Spring and Fall of Eve Adams,” she was under arrest. The charge was selling “obscene” novels by Henry Miller and Anais Nin, from her Jazz Age lesbian speakeasy and tearoom in Greenwich Village.
As it turns out, Adams’ story was just beginning; Kahn’s latest play, “Unreachable Eden,” follows the “queen of the third sex” after her deportation as an “undesirable alien” to France, where she ended up in Nice, from where she was ultimately sent to Auschwitz. “Unreachable Eden,” with music by Arthur Abrams, runs through Feb. 26 at the Theater for the New City. Steph van Vlack reprising her role as Adams. Zina Anaplioti, Christopher Comeaux, Ben Davis, Claire Epstein, Robert Gonzales, Jr., Gusta Johnson, and Franco Pedicini are also featured in the cast.
Directed by the playwright, “Unreachable Eden” is Kahn’s 14th play at Theater for the New City. Her previous plays have included “Birds on Fire, about the victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and “Pyrates! The Courtship Chronicles,” a musical about 18th-century gay and lesbian Jamaican buccaneers, including a Sephardic refugee from the Spanish Inquisition.
After the run of another of her plays, “Spring and Fall,” ended in 2010, the playwright got a call from Steve Siegel, the long-time librarian at the 92nd Street Y. Siegel, who passed away last month, told her that after years of effort, he had had finally unearthed Adams’ deportation file at the U.S. Department of Immigration.
Kahn dove back into the research, combing through reports of aid workers who were sent back from Nice (an Italian-occupied city, where French Jews were initially protected against the Nazis), bulletins from the Joint Distribution Committee, and letters that Adams wrote to her friend in Chicago, Ben Reitman, an anarchist doctor and lover of Emma Goldman’s.
In an interview, Kahn noted that Adams (born Chava Zloczower in Poland) was eager to return to New York. “Throughout the 1930s, she argued repeatedly that she could be a productive member of society,” Kahn said, “but the authorities refused to allow her to come back.” Her situation was far from dire, however. “She took vacations in London and St. Tropez, and whenever Henry Miller was short of money, she gave him some to tide him over.” If Adams had survived the Holocaust, Kahn insisted, “she would have gained the same recognition that Sylvia Beach got as a promoter of James Joyce.”
Abrams, who grew up on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx and learned Yiddish music at the Workmen’s Circle, incorporated a mix of klezmer, swing, waltz and tango music into the piece. For “One More Day in Eden,” which is a kind of theme song of the play, Abrams borrowed a few bars from “America the Beautiful.” The song “shows the character’s longing for America,” Abrams said. “Even after everything that she went through, she still thinks of America as Eden.”
“Unreachable Eden” runs through Feb. 26 at Theater for the New City, 155 Second Ave. at 10th St. Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets, $12, call the box office at (212) 254-1109.