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Folksbiene Plans Ambitious Season To Follow Yiddish ‘Fiddler’

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has a tough act to follow for its 105th season.

Last year, the Folksbiene launched a remarkably successful Yiddish production of “Fiddler on the Roof” that, following a sold-out run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, transferred Off-Broadway, where it is currently playing at Stage 42.

In its 2019-2020 season, planned around the theme of “Spiritual Resistance,” the Folksbiene will attempt to follow up on that success by featuring both new work and old classics of the Yiddish stage.

“We are in residence at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, which is presenting ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away,’” Folksbiene Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek said in a statement. “As their artistic collaborators, we will offer theatrical experiences through the filter of how oppression shapes us and inspires us as individuals and as a community in the worst possible circumstances.”

The new main stage season will begin in July with writer-director David Schechter’s play “Hannah Senesh.” That one-woman show, featuring music by Steven Lutvak, tells the true story of the title character, a young Jewish woman who fled Nazi-allied Hungary for Mandatory Palestine in 1939, then parachuted back into Europe to save Jews from the Shoah.

Following “Hannah Senesh” is Avrom Goldfaden’s “The Sorceress (Di Kishefmakherin)” with direction by Associate Artistic Director Motl Didner and musical direction by Mlotek, which will premiere in December. In February, Mlotek and Didner told the Forward about the two-year long process of restoring the original orchestrations of this once-hugely popular operetta, which was the first piece of Yiddish theater ever produced in America and is the first the Restoration Project fully restored in-house. (“Bar Kokhba,” another operetta written by Goldfaden and restored by the Folksbiene, will be presented in a concert format on September 22. The operetta tracks a Jewish uprising against Roman occupation of Judea; when it first premiered in Tsarist Russia, it prompted a ban on Yiddish theater.)

The Folksbiene will then premiere “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” a new opera based on the novel of the same name by Giorgio Bassani — also the source of a well-known film — with music by Ricky Ian Gordon and a libretto by Michael Korie. The English-language opera will be presented in partnership with the New York City Opera, the second such collaboration after this season’s jazz opera “Dear Erich.”

Finally, Paddy Chayefsky’s Tony-nominated play “The Tenth Man” will premiere in a newly-commissioned Yiddish translation directed by Tony nominee Eleanor Reissa. The play, which will open in May of 2020, is among one of Chayefsky’s most explicitly Jewish works, transporting the familiar story of the dybbuk — a malicious spirit from Jewish folklore — to a tiny synagogue in suburban America.

At a yet-to-be-announced date, the Folksbiene will also bring selections from Peter Weiss’s play “The Investigation,” drawn from his own firsthand experience as a witness of the 1963-1965 Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, to three venues around New York City. “The Investigation” was controversial at the time of its premiere for not using the word “Jew” and for Weiss’s literary style, which favors unemotional delivery of the text. The date and two of the venues are to be announced, with one performance to be held at the Folksbiene’s home at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Folksbiene mainstays like the Martin Luther King Day event “Soul to Soul” and a performance at Central Park’s SummerStage are also planned for the season, along with a roster of one-night-only readings.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]

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