New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"On Second Avenue"
Folksbiene Theatre, Jewish Community Theatre in Manhattan

How appropriate that the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre takes on the history of Yiddish theatre for its current show! The Folksbiene, in itself, is history made incarnate, as it celebrates its 90th season. The venerable company is the longest continually-producing theater in this country, ethnic or mainstream. And now, joining hands with Montreal’s Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (the only two remaining Yiddish theaters in both countries), it has mounted a revival of “On Second Avenue” (created originally by Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek, the Folksbiene’s Executive Director).

While this lively Yiddish-English revue will have its chief appeal to Jewish audiences, it can be of interest of interest to any theater-lover. Audiences who want that trip down memory lane will certainly be gratified, but overhead translations in English make the show accessible to every one, however limited their knowledge of Yiddish.

The show features Mike Burstyn, along with Robert Paul Abelson, Joanne Borts, Lisa Fishman, Elan Kunin, and Lisa Rubin, with pre-teen actress Reyna Schaechter, in a series of song, movement, and comic routines. Burstyn, who was born into Yiddish theater (although he made the cross-over to Broadway and other mainstream entertainment), gets all the old-time comic shticks and songs. But his fellow performers fill out the chinks. The senior member of the troupe, Abelson, offers a fine operatically-trained voice, undimmed by time, and Lisa Rubin is particularly fetching in a number of ingenue roles. But Borts, Fishman and Kunin all offer solid professional support. And Schaechter has an appealing number as a little boy reluctant to attend Hebrew School.

Through song and talk “On Second Avenue” traces Yiddish theater from its 19th century origins in Jassy, Romania, to its Golden Age in this country. Under the astute direction of Bryna Wasserman, Artistic Director of the Wasserman theatre), the show has its moments of poignancy and yearning, but never slows its pace.

-- Irene Backalenick
March 2, 2005

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