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Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Di Ksube (The Marriage Contract)"
National Yiddish Theatre--Folksbiene, JCC in Manhattan

The National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene (to give this venerable theater its full name) is still going strong, and we are all the richer for it! In fact, the Folksbiene is now in its 93rd season—the only theater in this country—Jewish or otherwise—to run continually.

The Folksbiene’s current show, playing until April 6th at its JCC home in Manhattan, is a veritable treasure! “Di Ksube” (translated as “The Marriage Contract”) is a hilarious comedy (with music) by Israeli playwright Ephraim Kishon. The original show, which opened in Israel in 1953, is now enjoying this revival in Yiddish. It is the Folksbiene’s third production of the “Di Ksube,” which it staged in 1982 and again in 1991.

Though Kishon has been touted as the “Neil Simon of Israel,” he is truly his own person, with his own voice. He has a sharp, but affectionate, take on modern Israeli types, from Kibbutzniks to Tel Aviv families. The story deals with a college student, a girl named Ayala, who is engaged to a momma’s boy (Robert). Robert’s mother (whom we never see on stage, but is a formidable presence all the same) insists that Ayala must produce her parent’s marriage contract (“di ksube”) before her own marriage can proceed. It quickly becomes evident that Ayala’s parents (Shifre and Elimeylekh) have no idea where that contract is--or if, in fact, it even exists. As Kibbutzniks when they married 25 years earlier, they had paid little attention to such formalities. Thus the stage is set for high comedy--with wrangling parents, interfering neighbors, righteous prospective machatenistas and good fun. Though accusations—and even blows—are traded fast and furiously, it works out happily in the end, as comedies must.

Under direction of Motl Didner, it is a smooth professional production. Didner is blessed with a gifted cast of six performers. Topped by Itzy Firestone and Suzanne Toren as the parents, the cast also includes Dani Marcus, Ilan Kwittken, Mena Levit and Eyal Sherf. Though the verbal exchanges are rapid-fire, they are easy to follow, given the super-titles (in English and Russian). The story is enhanced with sporadic lapses into delightful tunes, courtesy of Shimon Cohen’s music and Moshe Sacher’s lyrics. Under musical direction of Zalmen Mlotek (Folksbiene’s Artistic Director), such tunes come to life as “Shoyn Genug” (“Enough Already”), “Oy, Iz Dos a Tants” (“Oy, Is This a Dance”), and “Ikh Vel Vider Zayn a Kavalir” (I’ll Be a Bachelor Again”).

Comedy though this is, “Di Ksube” is not all fun and games. The Orthodox minority in Israel still has its population in a strangle-like grip, where personal matters are concerned. ”In modern Israel,” as the program notes indicate, “all weddings, even among the secular, must be presided by an Orthodox Rabbi and a traditional Aramaic ksube must be signed in order for the marriage to be recognized as legal by the state.”

Hence, “Di Ksube,” one of Israeli’s longest-running shows, continues to be relevant in these times. And it brings the message home delightfully in this endearing production.

-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 30, 2008

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