Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Cafe Society Swing,” a new musical that opened in New York on December 21, has so many good parts it’s a shame they don’t fit together.
The play tells the story of Barney Josephson, the son of Latvian Jewish immigrants who scrapped together a few thousand bucks and, in 1938, opened a Greenwich Village nightspot he called Cafe Society. A fan of jazz, he wanted to bring downtown the music he’d seen uptown at Harlem’s Cotton Club.
But with a difference: In Harlem, the audiences were almost all white (black customers were seated in the back behind partitions) and the entertainers all black. Even legendary musicians such as Duke Ellington had to come in through the back door.
Influenced by the political cabarets of Prague and Berlin, Josephson integrated both the Cafe Society entertainers and audience. Billie Holliday, bluesman Big Joe Turner, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, folk singer Josh White, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughn graced the club’s stage. Jack Guilford was a long-time MC, as was Zero Mostel. Imogene Coca and Carol Channing, among others, also appeared there.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
In Tom Dugan’s play, “Wiesenthal,” the title character, Simon Wiesenthal (played by Dugan), describes a conversation with his wife, Cyla. She is ill and wants Simon to quit his work as a Nazi hunter and take her and their daughter to live in Israel.
Wiesenthal explains that he can’t:
“When we all meet in the next world, those who died in the camps will say, ‘Tell me what you did with this gift of life?’ One will tell of becoming a doctor; another a jeweler or a banker. When they ask me, I will say, ‘I have never forgotten you.’”
Then there was the time his 8-year-old daughter, the only Jew in her school, came home and asked why all the other children have family to spend holidays with. “Why do I have no one to visit?”
These are moments that will register with people of a certain generation. This play is important because there are other generations for whom this won’t register at all.
Unfortunately, emotional dialogue aside, the rest of the production comes off more as a dry history lesson than as an inspirational drama, lessening any potential impact it might have. The setting is Wiesenthal’s office at the Vienna Jewish Documentation Center in April 2003. It is his last day there and the show’s conceit is that one final group of visitors has come to hear him speak — or more accurately, recite.
It’s no surprise that the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” boasts Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Anna. She is a strong, intelligent activist and actor, a key player in this drama about marital love and infidelity. It’s the type of character Gyllenhaal regularly and successfully inhabits.
For the young actress, who recently discovered her birth name is Margalit (Hebrew for Pearl), it adds another star performance in her ever-expanding galaxy. Here are some others:
1. The Honourable Woman
Gyllenhaal played British business executive Ness Stein in this eight-part mini-series that aired originally on the BBC and last summer on the Sundance Channel. Stein, who is Jewish, works hard to build bridges of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but as soon becomes clear in this spy thriller, it is a complex and difficult task. But the series and Gullenhaal’s performance won raves, with The New York Times saying she played “a principled but conflicted woman whose quicksilver personality alters from hour to hour and flashback to flash-forward.”
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
“Disgraced,” which opened October 23 at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater, is breathtaking.
There are moments when the entire audience gasps at something so surprising or disturbing on stage, it’s as though all the air is sucked out of the room. Those gasps, however, are the only sound the audience makes throughout this intellectually and emotionally engaging 90-minute production.
The play, written by Ayad Akhtar, debuted almost exactly two years ago off-Broadway, and deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
It’s set in a lavishly furnished Upper East Side Manhattan apartment. Amir Kapoor (Hari Dhillon) is posing for a portrait painted by his wife Emily (Gretchen Mol). She was inspired by a Velazquez painting of a slave and their dinner the evening prior. The waiter kept staring at them, the gorgeous blond American princess and this brown-skinned man.
Amir was used to it. In fact, he’d conquered the prejudice. He is a successful mergers and acquisitions attorney working for a Jewish law firm. His boss and mentor, Mort, befriended and depended on him, and Amir sees a partnership in his future.
But all is not as it seems. Kapoor is not his real last name. It is Abdullah. While he claims his heritage is Indian (and presumably Hindu), his family emigrated from Pakistan and is Muslim. But he is not.
Photo: Ken Jacques
The tiny Triad nightclub in the Upper West Side of Manhattan was filled by a crowd sufficiently large to give a fire marshal palpitations. That was probably due to the fact that the night’s attraction, Brad Zimmerman, grew up across the Hudson, just a hop, skip and $14 George Washington Bridge toll away.
The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t the fire marshal who should have been worried, but the building inspector. Because the moment he began his show, “My Son the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy,” Zimmerman had the place and pretty much everyone’s belly shaking.
“My Son the Waiter” is a one-man show, an autobiographical retelling of a life at once sad and funny. Growing up, Zimmerman had a great deal going for him. He was the best athlete in his bunk at Camp Akiba, hit a home run on the first pitch in his first Little League at-bat and, of the three colleges he applied to, decided to attend the one that accepted him.
He graduated with a degree in theater, but spent the next 29 years of his life as a waiter in restaurants, but working with a Jewish deli waiter attitude. A customer starts to flag him as he is walking to the table. When Zimmerman comes over, the customer says, “I’m in a hurry.” Zimmerman tells him, “So, go.”
Waiting on tables was a humbling experience for the college grad — and his mom. When her friends told her about their sons’ successes and giant mansions, all Zimmerman’s mother could brag about was, “If all goes well, I think Brad is gonna buy a book case.”
Zimmerman’s problem wasn’t that he went out on auditions and was turned down. It was that he didn’t even try.
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