New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

The 14th Annual New York International Fringe Festival —
Jewish Plays and Otherwise
Venues all over downtown Manhattan

Scotland’s Edinburgh has made the Fringe Festival format famous—to be followed by many look-alikes as time has passed. New York itself now features numerous such events.

But the favorite, by far, for this reviewer, has been the International Fringe Festival—held each August throughout the East Village and West Village in New York City. Now in its 14th season, the Festival continues to grow and to thrive—this year featuring some 200 shows and 5000 performers from the States and abroad, taking place in 18 venues. It is the chance for young companies to make their mark, for aspiring playwrights to raise their voices, for actors to work, for reviewers and theatergoers to race about madly in quest of the ultimate theater experience.

The Jewish presence was not as heavy this year as in some years, but 12 plays could be found all the same. Those shows were as follows:“Abraham’s Daughters” (three college freshmen struggle with theirfriendship and their Jewish, Moslem, and Christian faiths); “AK-47 Sing-Along” (children’s television in Gaza, while Arabs and Jews struggle to communicate); “Dear Harvey” (a profile of Jewish American gay activist Harvey Milk); “Feed the Monster” (an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn); “A Gilgl Fun a Nigun” (history of one song—all in Yiddish); “Jew Wish” (Jewish dating game); “Just in Time” (Judy Holliday story); “The Mad 7” (modern riff on Hassidic beliefs); “My Name is Ruth” (modern version of Biblical tale); “Omarys Concepcion” (Puerto Rican girl goes to Israel); “Two Girls” (a Black and a Jewish girl face off in South Africa).

Particularly noteworthy in this list of Jewish pieces is “A Gilgl Fun a Nigun”—a solo piece performed in Yiddish by Rafael Goldwaser. This accomplished performer acts out the evolution of one song—from wedding march to symphonic piece—with grace and elegance. It is based on an old I. L. Peretz tale. Also intriguing is “The Mad 7,” another one-man show, which translates a Hassidic legend to modern form. But though soloist Yehuda Hyman moves well, with strong performance, acting and dance skills, his piece  (based on an 1810 Hassidic story “The Seven Beggars”) never lives up to expectations.

But on to other Fringe shows. For this reviewer, one particular Saturday provided the ultimate challenge, with four shows on that day. My friend/playwright Eleanor and I sprinted from theater to theater, on occasion boldly grabbing cabs out from under the very nose of other would-be passengers. Sandwiches and other refreshments were sandwiched in, between shows. This Fringe, for all its high-sounding missions, tended to be slapdash, with volunteers manning the entry lines and lobbies. It occasioned fierce determination—press card or no press card—to get that seat, to cover that show.

But we saw all four shows scheduled on our Saturday agenda. Despite the rigorous screening of applicants, shows ranged wildly in quality—more often disappointing than promising, this year as in other years. (Every year finds at least one star which goes on to fame—“Urinetown,” for example.)

“Jurassic Parq” (note the spelling) was a memorable new musical, irreverently spoofing everything from God to science to gender identity to Broadway musicals to the noted film “Jurassic Park” itself. It was clever, youthful (as to audience and performers), and very much of the moment—with its own kind of offbeat wit. Another show—a spoof of “Hamlet,” proved far less successful. In fact, the title—“Hamlet Shut Up”—was the best part of this lumbering, amateurish effort. Last show of our evening was “For the Birds,” a moving, but sad, sad piece about adoption, insanity, sterility, death. This piece was a joint Irish/American effort, and theater people from both sides of the Atlantic are to be praised.

As for those which we considered failures, the less said the better. Let us pass them by, not naming names. As usual, we found that the usual percentages held fast---out of a possible four, one was first-rate, one was adequate, and two were disasters. But, in all fairness, we managed to see only a small percentage of the possible offerings. We hope to do better next August—with more Jewish shows and more shows of quality.

--Irene Backalenick
Aug. 25, 2010

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