Allan Lewis Rickman likes to say that the best audiences for “The Essence: A Yiddish Theatre Dim Sum” are gentile college students — a demographic that seemed (shockingly!) underrepresented at the show’s opening NYC Fringe Festival performance at the Robert Moss Theater on August 14. More than a few people in this crowd murmured recognition of familiar tunes and might have kept right on laughing at jokes in Yiddish even if Matt Temkin’s excellent English supertitles had malfunctioned.
On December 3, 1956, “Night of the Auk” landed on Broadway. An audacious work by Arch Oboler, the play was set aboard the first manned spaceship to return from the moon and was written in blank verse. The talent behind the production was stunning. Sidney Lumet directed, Kermit Bloomgarten (“The Diary of Anne Frank”) produced, and the play starred Christopher Plummer, Claude Rains and Dick York.
There is exactly one perceptive sentence of dialogue in “Chasing Heaven,” now playing through August 26 at CSV Flamboyan as part of the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. It comes rather late in the proceedings, when the two main characters, in grudging collaboration on a rewrite of a very familiar-sounding piece of iconic theater, come to an impasse over whether or not to cut a villain dubbed Trout Bait from the revised version. One argues that Trout Bait is a racist and offensive portrayal of Blackness: a lying, gambling boozer. The other points out that, while Trout Bait may be all of those things, the show can’t afford to lose him because “he moves the work along and he gets to sing a lot of great stuff.”
Oh to be a freshman once again! To run down to the dining hall for some afternoon munchies, to study long into the night, to be young and reckless and unfamiliar with everything! Were we ever that naive? Were we ever that unprepared? Were we ever that confused?
Earlier this week, I began my coverage of the New York International Fringe Festival by introducing the solo performances of three young women grappling with their faith. With the second week came more solo shows, but this time the performances were about larger stories, and involved more characters than just the individual actors. Taking in larger world views, each of these shows incorporated multiple faiths, races, and lives.
To the delight, thrill or perhaps chagrin of theatergoers in the Tri-State Area, on August 13 the annual New York International Fringe Festival rolled into town. Using 18 venues scattered below 14th Street, nearly 200 productions are being mounted in three short weeks, showcasing the newest of the new on the Off-Off Broadway circuit.
In attending “A Gilgl Fun A Nigun” (“The Metamorphosis of a Melody”), which opened its five-performance run at the New York International Fringe Festival on August 14, I was charged with answering a single massive question: Can Yiddish theater appeal to a mainstream audience? As a lifelong theater lover and gentile, I had never been to a Yiddish performance before. So the question was, would I get it?
Summer means many things to the New York theater community: epically long lines at the Delecorte for whatever Shakespeare in the Park production has the biggest names; the closing of many sleepy last-season hits; and of course the plethora of festivals packing Off-Off Broadway houses citywide. Like its downtown counterpart, the Fringe Festival, the Midtown International Theatre Festival is an annual mixed bag of genres, styles and subject matters.