With its irresistible blend of innocence and envelope-pushing, the Jazz Age — an era of bootleggers, flappers and silent-movie stars — still holds a mythical fascination for today’s audiences. To this end, Ted Merwin, an assistant professor at Dickinson College and chief theater critic for the New York Jewish Week, has written “In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture.” As suggested by the title, Merwin’s new book chronicles the increasing visibility of Jewish creative talent in the dynamic America of the 1920s. Impressively researched and entertainingly presented, this lively volume shows how the twin forces of immigrant acculturation and the quickening social pace of the Jazz Age helped put Jewish entertainers at the center of the new popular culture.
On Broadway, late summer is known as the off-season. But in the downtown theater world, life begins in August. Every year at this time, the kaleidoscopic burst of creativity known as the New York International Fringe Festival lights up Lower Manhattan. Now in its 10th year, North America’s largest multi-arts festival hosts hundreds of performances that range from traditional drama to experimental dance, from Dadaist puppetry to alternative standup. Though performances ended last month, reverberations from the fringe will continue to be felt. After launching downtown, some of the more successful shows invariably transfer to new venues and enjoy longer runs.
From the Ghetto to the Melting Pot: Israel Zangwill’s Jewish Plays By Israel Zangwill Edited by Edna Nahshon Wayne State University Press 363 pages, $34.95. * * *|Long before “diversity” became a cultural buzzword, playwright and novelist Israel Zangwill coined a phrase that would become an indelible part of America’s language of
Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays Edited by Ellen Schiff and Michael PosnickForeword by Theodore Bikel University of Texas Press, 587 pages, $24.95. * * *|Published plays — especially those in anthologies — tend to be dismissed by the casual browser as specialty items, of interest only to students of theater history or to actors in search