Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"A Novel Romance" ("Di Kaprizne Kalemoyd")
Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, JCC on Amsterdam Ave., Manhattan
Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre continues to make history. Not only is it celebrating its 90th season, as the oldest continuing theater in this country (Jewish or non-Jewish). But it celebrates the event with a musical play written by Abraham Goldfaden, the founding father of Yiddish theater. This show is now holding forth through Jan. 2 at the JCC on Manhattan's Amsterdam Avenue.
For students of Yiddish theater, this is indeed an occasion. "A Novel Romance," ("Di Kaprizne Kalemoyd" in Yiddish) premiered in Romania in 1877, not long after the new genre got under way. Reaching these shores in 1882, it opened at Thomashevsky's Turin Hall, thus moving this country into the Golden Age of Yiddish Theater.
Considering that Goldfaden was not so much playwright as a director/producer/entrepreneur, it is amazing that his slap-dash shows have such enduring qualities. In this case, "A Novel Romance" mixes satire and burlesque, music and melodrama, to the delight of past and present audiences.
The story deals with a distraught father, who has yet to marry off his 30-year-old daughter--and that difficult, dreamy daughter. Khane (the daughter) reads trashy German romance novels and longs for a storybook suitor. He will be beardless, German-speaking, mustachioed, dressed to the nines, and named Franz. Just such a man appears, but he is a penniless con artist. Goldfaden is satirizing intellectual and social pretensions, particularly mocking Jews who look down on homely Yiddish and aspire to German, the language of culture at the time.
For this contemporary production, adapter/director Allen Lewis Rickman has trimmed the original songs and added others in the spirit of the show--and has also provided overhead translations to English. It is a good-natured, lively production, with zesty music offered by Annette Ezekiel and Alicia Jo Rabins and first-rate dance numbers performed by David Mandelbaum and Mitchell Greenberg. Ibi Kaufman makes a lovely, spirited Khane, but unfortunately reveals an indifferent singing voice. Thus her solo numbers are flat. Mandelbaum plays it over the top as the father, but why not? This is Yiddish theater! Sam Guncler and Steve Sterner, two thorough-going pros, round out the cast and do much to keep it on a professional level. And Vicki Davis' set designs, painted backdrops, add a storybook charm to the proceedings.
In all, this is a revival which lets us indulge in nostalgia, tripping down memory lane and back to the world of our forebears.
-- Irene Backalenick
December 1, 2004