Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Bank Street Theatre, Manhattan
The chance to sink back into an earlier time in Jewish history, to relive an era, is rare. But now the Peccadillo Theater Company is offering a heart-warming production of “Morning Star.” This gem of a piece takes us back to the American beginnings of an immigrant Jewish family. Opening at the turn of the century and moving through three generations, “Morning Star” plays out the family struggles and successes, triumphs and tragedies.
The play has been labeled a drama, melodrama, tragi-comedy, soap opera. But forget the label. More importantly, “Morning Star” is a treasure, with dialogue and characters that are hard to resist. It is a good old-fashioned well-made play, with a solid plot and strong characterizations. Becky Felderman, a widow, works to raise her four children, encouraging their dreams and hopes. On hand are the children—Sadie, Fanny, Esther, and Hymie—plus assorted boarders, friends and suitors. The crowded tenement, despite its shabby furnishings and its one-bathroom facility, is warm and welcoming, with room always for one more at the table. The years bring marriages, births, successes, and, with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and World War I, tragedies.
Playwright Sylvia Regan has been compared, often unfavorably, to Clifford Odets, with both working in the same period and offering similar traits to their immigrant families. But, in fact, Regan is a gifted playwright in her own right, one who can hold her own in that exalted company.
The Peccadillo production, housed at the Bank Street Theater in Greenwich Village, is right on target. For starters, the intimate setting of Bank Street’s pocket-size stage brings the us right into the Felderman living room. We are part of it all. But art is something more than everyday life, and director Dan Wackerman, working with a sure hand, turns reality into art. He is blessed with a fine cast, and it is difficult to pick out star performances, since Wackerman has welded this cast of twelve into an ensemble. But Susan Greenhill, in the lead as Becky, does hold the play together, and though her Yiddish accent feels less than authentic, she gives a strong, touching performance.
In all, “Morning Star” is most worth seeing--but, unfortunately, closes at the end of this month. We can only hope there will be a return engagement of this very special play and production.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 23, 2007