New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

LaMaMa E.T.C., Manhattan

A young performing arts company, fueled by raw energy, has now brought “Haggadah” to the off-Broadway scene, playing downtown at LaMaMa E.T.C. The company, called Witness Relocation, offers its collaborative effort, a unique multi-arts version of the Passover Seder. Dance, rock music, narration, dramatic scenes, slide shows all play into the piece.

As we enter the LaMaMa performance space, we see a large white cloth (presumably the Passover tablecloth), with plates and cups, spread across the stage. We take our seats on either side of the stage, viewing the scene below and anticipating the ancient Jewish ritual. But Witness Relocation has other plans. As the dancers rush in, they strip the so-called table, and the Seder, as we know it, disappears in a whirl of wild movement.

From that point on, we viewers undergo a dizzying experience. There are certainly familiar moments, as the Exodus tale unfolds. But more often than not, the dancers move into their own chaotic world, and we, the viewers, are left wandering in the wilderness.

How well does the troupe re-enact the Seder ritual—and spell out the Exodus Story? One must acknowledge that Witness Relocation and Dan Safer (who directs and choreographs the piece) are innovative and imaginative. But often the piece makes no sense whatsoever. Why do the performers run furiously in place for a full six minutes, for example, with a rock tune pounding out the beat?

On the other hand, scene between Moses and Zipporah in the land of the Midianites is both lyrical and sensual, while the theme of slavery is powerfully rendered in several scenes. And a slide show that turns often to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1954 “Ten Commandments” (with Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, and a high-kicking chorus of starlets), slyly mocks that Hollywood version.

All told, “Haggadah” is a mixed bag of tricks, with every bright—and not so bright—idea thrown into the mix. Certainly Witness Relocation is to be commended for letting the ideas flow freely and for encouraging experimentation. But for ourselves, we’ll stay with the traditional old-fashioned Seder. Granted the ceremony can play out endlessly, but a Seder seems the best way to honor Jewish history and celebrate all  peoples’ freedom from slavery. 

-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 24, 2009

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