By William Wolf

LESS THAN 50%  Send This Review to a Friend

Gianmarco Soresi, who has written what is tabbed as an “unromantic comedy” called “Less Than 50%,” also co-stars in it with Hannah Hale. He is best when doing snatches of stand-up addressing the audience with some very funny lines pertaining to family, romance and sex.

Likewise, the most appealing parts of the very convoluted two-hander story that he has concocted are the amusing bits. As for the overall plot of two actors co-mingling work with their on-again-off-again love affair, whether romantic or unromantic, becomes a strain even at a running time of 80 minutes.

Both Soresi and Hale are very talented, and they work oh-so hard at trying to breathe reality into the tale. The author blends the personal story with the professional problems as he and Hale portray two aspiring actors who meet at college and forge ahead in a play he is developing with the hope of getting into the Fringe Festival and is finally winding up as part of the overall production under the busy direction by Jen Wineman in the intimate Theater C at 59E59 Theaters.

The show has been produced by Robin Milling in association with James Brent White, Todd & Elizabeth Donovan, Joann Farda, Jesse Kearney and New Light Theater Project. The title, by the way, refers to the author’s observation that less than 50% of first marriages work out, with the percentages declining further with each subsequent marriage.

The characters enacted, Gianmarco as himself and Hale as Laura, go through the complicated paces of their relationship onstage and off, sometimes hard for an audience to tell apart. It includes her falling for another guy, separations, reunions, recriminations and acting in the grand design of the play Gianmarco is determined to see staged.

There is a very maudlin ending gambit that apparently is meant to be moving, but comes across as hokey. Fortunately, the comic elements, especially as seen in Soresi’s standup gifts, do earn laughs. And both Soresi and Hale are appealing as actors despite the play’s repetitiousness and their need to handle an abundance of props visible on background shelves and snatched frequently for the machine-gun-like assortment of scenes. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed August 18, 2018.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN  Send This Review to a Friend

The first thing you should know about “Straight White Men,” the Second Stage presentation of the play by Young Jean Lee, is that you should arrive a few minutes before starting time, or if earlier, relax in the downstairs lobby. That way you can avoid the obnoxiously booming hip-hop music that attacks the eardrums from the moment seating begins. The musical assault is tenuously related to the play at the start in apologetic introductions by transgender Kate Bornstein, who describes herself as a gender theorist from the New Jersey shore and Ty Defoe, who self-identifies as a two-spirit Native American. They also have the duty of leading characters into positions at the start of scenes, a gambit that comes across as a useless and pretentious effort to frame the story that unfolds.

That arresting and provocative story, set in a Midwest home, winds up being very upsetting despite big doses of laughter. It involves a father and three sons gathered on Christmas Eve in the family home and continues over a two-day period. We first meet brothers Jake (Josh Charles) and Drew (Armie Hammer) as they engage in amusing rough play as overgrown kids, following the sort of routines remembered from their boyhood. Such antics are repeated at intervals, and while funny at first, they become a bit much.

Jake and Drew are visiting the home occupied by their widowed dad (Stephen Payne). Their brother, Matt (Paul Schneider) has moved in with dad for an indefinite stay. As the play develops, the interactions build to serious, deeply upsetting confrontations, especially with regard to Matt.

Jake, a banker, and Drew, a writer and teacher, are pursuing careers that rest on their lives of white privilege (hence the play’s title). This is illustrated when they dig out and play an amusing board game called “Privilege.” They are presumably models of success, although when things get heated, Drew remarks that he was once suicidal. The brothers, especially Jake, become furious with Matt for his total lack of ambition despite his excellent education. He is content to do menial work at a community organization and is paying off his crunching student loan, even refusing his father’s offer of a check to take care of the debt. At one moment Matt breaks down and cries, which upsets his brothers and dad more than it does him, and leads to suggestions that he seek psychiatric care.

The situation reaches absurdity when Matt is goaded into a make-believe job interview with his father to show how he should behave to achieve advancement. His sheepishness is very funny, but defines his apparent contentment with being simply who he is, resisting pressure to do otherwise. What subsequently happens leads us to feel sorry for Matt and wonder what will happen to him.

The actors are all very convincing in their characterizations. Thus the play becomes riveting despite its contrivances and unanswered questions. There is ample fuel for post-play thoughts and discussions, slickly engendered by the author’s writing. The production has been superbly directed by Anna D. Shapiro, despite the superfluous introductions. The set design by Todd Rosenthal works efficiently. At the Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.

HEAD OVER HEELS  Send This Review to a Friend

This isn’t the sort of musical that needs rave reviews. There are still fans of the all-female Go-Go’s band that hit it big time in the early 1980s for whom just hearing favorite songs again would be enough. However, the positive news is that the creators of “Head Over Heels” have cleverly put the numbers together with a plot based on a 16th century classic. It is a production that entertains on many counts, including showy performances, amusing costumes, savvy scenery, imaginative lighting and some updated gender exploration. To call this a jukebox musical would be denigrating. It comes through with a lot more than that as a fun-filled experience worth discovering on your own. In tune with the spirit, there is a five member, all-women band doing musical justice to the Go- Go’s repertoire.

“Head Over Heels” was conceived with an original book by Jeff Whitty based on “The Arcadia,” a classic narrative poem by prolific Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1585). This adaptation is by James Magruder, with Michael Mayer’s outsized direction, energized choreography by Spencer Liff and musical supervision, orchestration and arrangements by Tom Kitt. The assorted elements from cast to the technical expertise come together dynamically, starting with the rousing opening number “We Got the Beat,” the Go-Go’s signature hit.

The setting is Arcadia and environs, and the convoluted plot and relationships may remind you of Shakespearian entanglements. The characters include the arrogant King Basilius (Jeremy Kushner); his wife Gynecia (Rachel York); their hefty and brassy older daughter Pamela (Bonnie Milligan); their more timid younger daughter (Philoclea); the king’s viceroy Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins); his daughter Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), a handmaiden; Musidorus (Andrew Durand), a shepherd in love with Philoclea, and Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi (Peppermint). An eight-member ensemble adds boundless energy.

With predictions that Arcadia may fall, the king launches into intrigue. Off he goes to see the Oracle. The appearance of Peppermint as the Oracle is a blast. She is being touted as the first transgender woman to create a principal role on Broadway, and lavishly costumed Peppermint delivers with powerful comic elan.

The elder daughter Pamela is another highlight. She has trouble finding suitors to marry her, and as she tries to create poetry about her hoped-for perfect mate, the rhyming that keeps coming up indicates she needs someone with body parts like her own. It turns out that Mopsa fits the description in one of the show’s revelations. And Milligan as Pamela is a terrific singer, which she demonstrates handily with “How Much More.” Jones as Mopsa also impresses with her big number “Vacation.”

When Musidorus, the lowly shepherd is banned by the king from marrying Philoclea, he disguises himself as an Amazon warrior, and that sets off further adventure for the musical. Is there any doubt that the young lovers will eventually unite?

The king and his rebellious wife accidentally couple when the king thinks he is having sex with the Amazon, cleverly presented by shadows seen through a back-lit scrim. York is especially good as the feisty queen. There is a lot of such fun with the scenery, including a make-believe sea, with mermaids swimming and a fish diving in and out of the water. Almost everything is expressed with humor, as when we see the shepherd’s dancing sheep.

With it all the Go-Go’s numbers are deftly worked into the action. In addition to the aforementioned, there is a hit parade of other songs, including “Get Up and Go,” “Mad About You,” “Good Girl,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Head Over Heels,” “Lust for Love,” “Here You Are” etc.

Even if you never heard of the Go-Go’s you should find plenty to enjoy seeing the exuberant “Head Over Heels.” At the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street. Phone: 855-801-5876. Reviewed August 2, 2018.

MARY PAGE MARLOWE  Send This Review to a Friend

It takes six talented actresses to play the one role of Mary Page Marlowe at various stages of her life in Tracy Letts’s perceptive composite portrait presented by Second Stage. The time frames are jumbled rather than in a steady arc, but what the author cobbles together is a look at how a life becomes very different than the one hoped for, and a revelation that one may not be able to be in control.

The play begins with a scene in Ohio in which Mary Page at the age of 40, then played by Susan Pourfar, who also later plays her at 44, is trying to explain to her angry 15-year old daughter the dynamics of a marital split in which Mary Page is to move from Ohio to a job in Kentucky and how it will affect the lives of her daughter and son.

Others who portray Mary Page include Blair Brown who plays her at 59, 63 and 69; Emma Geer at 19; Mia Sinclair Jenness at 12; Tatiana Maslany at 27 and 36 and Kellie Overbey at 50.

In a college scene Mary Page (Geer) is optimistically looking for a full and happy life, explaining to her girlfriends that she has rejected a marriage proposal from a handsome guy on campus because she doesn’t want to be a wife a that stage. She muses about wanting to do other things, like going to Paris, and searching for more than just marriage. The rest of the play demonstrates how all turned sour until a happier period with her third husband late in life.

We get to see her when married and playing loose with sex with an also married boss for whom she works. She enjoys the sex but wants to avoid any commitment. We see her in a revealing session with a psychiatrist in which Mary Page is filled with self-rage. We later find her about to go to prison for drunk driving. Later, we see her crying with happiness after a letter arrives apparently freeing her from the limiting conditions of her release—a scene that also reveals a loving relationship with her third, very understanding and devoted husband. We also see her as a hospital patient resigned to her impending death from a fatal illness and telling a nurse that she is ready.

While it is very interesting to have Mary Page played by six actresses, they are so very different in looks that the effect is sometimes jarring. It is also difficult to see the downfall from the college student’s rosy vision and wonder why she couldn’t have more control of her life. But on the other hand Letts is stressing that life can take unexpected sharp turns against which one is helpless.

Skillful director Lila Neugebauer makes it relatively easy to follow the mixture of timelines, which makes the play provocative and intriguing. The two-level set designed by Laura Jellinek helps the flow of action with required furniture being moved in and out with simplicity.

One leaves with a nuanced impression of a turbulent life with all its ramifications for Mary Page and for some of those with whom she has interacted. An excellent supporting cast helps flesh out the total picture. At the Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, 305 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed August 1, 2018.

ANDERSON TWINS SALUTE IRVING BERLIN AND OTHER COMPOSERS IN 'SONGBOOK SUMMIT'   Send This Review to a Friend

One can always depend on twin brothers Peter and Will Anderson to provide delightful music, and this summer’s “Songbook Summit” program (August 7-September 2) has gotten off to a great start with an entertaining and informative salute to Irving Berlin (August 7-12).

The tributes to leading composers are being held at Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater. The schedule after the Berlin show is as follows: Jerome Kern (August 14-19); Hoagy Carmichael (August 21-26), Jimmy Van Heusen (August 28-September 2).

I attended the opening of the Berlin show and found it a complete charmer. In addition to the opportunity to enjoy the music, it is also like taking a class in the life and art of one of America’s greatest songwriters. Berlin lived to 101 and Will Anderson’s comments detailing highlights are punctuated with projections of illustrative clips, including shots of how Berlin’s songs were used. There is a clip of Berlin signing “God Bless America” on the Ed Sullivan show. One sees clips with such stars as Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and, of course, Bing Crosby, whose recordings of “White Christmas” sold millions. As Will amusingly notes, Berlin was the best Jewish composer ever to write a Christmas song. There’s also a song clip of “I Like Ike,” which Berlin wrote for Eisenhower. Particularly amusing is a shot from “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” with Peter Boyle, as the monster in Mel Brook’s film “Young Frankenstein,” croaking out the words in a song and dance number.

All of this is a plus that makes the show extra rewarding, but the heart of the program is the musical skill of the Andersons, who breathe fresh life into the numbers with their instrumental skills. Peter is a whiz on tenor sax, soprano sax and clarinet. Will excels on alto sax, clarinet and flute. There is also singer Molly Ryan, who impressively contributes the vocals for such numbers as “Blue Skies,” “Isn’t It a Lovely Day?”, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Always.” The Andersons have also assembled an excellent band that includes Tardo Hammer and Steve Ash taking turns at the piano, with Clovis Nicolas on acoustic bass and Philip Steward on drums.

Berlin’s treasure trove of songs is phenomenal, and as Will points out, they are geared to the public at large in comparison with Cole Porter’s numbers, with lyrics geared to the more sophisticated. Berlin wrote both music and lyrics, and he never had musical training. He liked to express his appreciation for the life he built in America after being brought here as a child. His accomplishments deserve special attention for what immigrants can achieve in this era of an Administration that is warring against immigration.

Among the other numbers offered is “I Can Do Better,” sung argumentatively by Ryan with both Peter and Will getting into the act. Throughout the program the brothers project an enviable unity in their playing, but also take turns at magical riffs on the various Berlin songs. Will makes a point of crediting Peter for the arrangements.

If you want a good time, the Anderson brothers are fun to see and hear, and based on past experience with their other performances, as well as the Berlin one, I can also recommend exploration of the other tributes in the “Songbook Summer” series. At the Symphony Space Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater, Broadway at 95th Street. Phone: 212-864-5400. Reviewed August 8, 2018.

TWELFTH NIGHT (2018)  Send This Review to a Friend

Before the start of this entertaining, pared down 90-minute intermission-less musical version of Shakespeare’s ”Twelfth Night,” there was already an infectious air of celebration on this particular Friday night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The stage was not only crowded with cast members chosen from various organizations and institutions in the Public Theater’s outreach Public Works program aiming to bring participation in the arts from throughout the city. Members of the audience for this Free Shakespeare in the Park production were also on stage mingling with the actors whom they would soon be watching. The picture was merrily colorful, given the array of costumes that stood out under the bright lighting.

The weather was iffy, with a steady rain having stopped conveniently as the show got underway. Little did we know that later in the production it would have to be halted briefly before resuming when the returned rain increased, and that by the end, when Shakespeare’s plot was being worked out, a downpour would begin anew, but the undeterred cast gallantly completed the show as if the sun were shining while we in the audience sat with our ponchos and rain coats and watched without regret. There was so much fun being had that most of us could not be bothered to worry about being a bit soaked.

This shortened “Twelfth Night” has been conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, with music and lyrics by Taub and choreography by Lorin Latarro. Co-direction is by Oskar Eustis and Kwei-Armah. The reaching-out concept results in a dramatically ethnic mix of performers, some seasoned Equity members, some newcomers. The play lends itself to turning it into a romp in this free-wheeling, joyful conception.

Composer Taub sets the tone playing Feste, the clown, and her performance is winsome, with her singing and deft keyboard playing, and with the band doing fine work from its sheltered position. Taub infuses her performance with sprightly humor in tune with the overall spirit.

The plot, you will recall, is set in Illyria and involves Viola, nicely played by Nikki M. James, and her twin brother Sebastian (an excellent Troy Anthony). Having been shipwrecked, each fears the other has drowned. To gain employment with Orsino (Ato Blankson-Wood), Viola disguises herself as a male with the name Cesario. There evolves the typical Bard mix-up until all is straightened out. Viola loves Orsino, but Orsino loves Olivia (Nanya-Akuki Goodrich), and sends Viola (Cesario) to help woo her, but Olivia falls in love with Cesario. There are more complications, and ultimately, of course, the twins are united and all works out in the romance department.

There is a big dose of amusement in the trick played on the pretentious Malvolio (a very funny Andrew Kober), made to think that Olivia loves him, and much is made of the ruse and the shabby comic treatment that takes Malvolio down mercilessly. Other appealing casting includes Shuler Hensley as Sir Toby Belch, Daniel Hall as Sir Andrew and Jonathan Jordan as Antonio.

A production like this hits the highlights of the play with the aim of providing sheer fun, thanks to the musical creativity, eager performances and an atmosphere that makes for delight in the park even when the heavens conspire against it. Through August 19 at the Delacorte Theater, entrance from Central Park and 81st Street. Reviewed August 1, 2018.

COMFORT WOMEN--A NEW MUSICAL  Send This Review to a Friend

By now the story of Korean young women made sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II is well known, and battles have been raging to obtain official apologies from Japanese authorities. At first glance the subject hardly seems likely for becoming a musical, but the Dimo Kim Musical Theatre Factory, with an all Asian cast, is showing how it can be done in its revival of “Comfort Women.”

The work has a book by Dimo Hyun Jun Kim, Osker David Aguirre and Joanne Mieses, music by Bryan Michaels and Taeho Park, with Michaels providing the lyrics. Kim has directed with Natanal Hyun Kim as choreographer. Although some of the text is drawn out, the overall production is dramatically moving, as the important concept is fleshed out by an excellent cast.

The story begins in Seoul, Korea in 1942, shifting in succession to Jakarta, Indonesia, Busan, Korea, back to Indonesia, then skipping to Indonesia and Korea in 1945. The plot follows the trail of women lured with promises of work opportunities or forcibly taken to become sex slaves who had to service 50 to 100 Japanese soldiers daily at the peril of death if they refused or try to escape.

Central is the story of Goeun Kim, a teenager superbly played in acting and song by Abigail Choi Arader, who succumbs to the ruse in hope of earning money to support her family as well as to find her captured brother. Arader has an excellent voice, demonstrated when she sings “When You Lose a Son,” “Silence,” and “Twilight” among the show’s more impressive numbers.

The intricate plot also involves a Korean, Minsik (Matheus Ting), who has been pressed into the Japanese army and sympathetically risks his life to aid the Korean women. We get a picture of the brutality of the Japanese abusers and the pathos of the plight of the women in captivity.

There is an especially creative sequence in which the rapes are depicted not by obvious violence, but in symbolically choreographed dance that makes the point esthetically.

“Comfort Women” is also valuable because it gives roles to talented Asian actors generally overlooked in the overall make-up of Broadway and off-Broadway shows. The result in artistic terms is an achievement of authenticity. Among others important in the large cast are Mathew Bautista, Lena Rae Concepcion, Shuyan Yang, Sara States, Roni Shelley Perez , Emily Su and Kenny Mai.

One comes away appreciative of all the work that has gone into “Comfort Women, ” and even if it hardly rises to the level of a great musical, it boasts a reasonably good score and is indeed often moving, enlightening and dramatic in remembering the sad fate of so many Korean women who fell prey to the Imperial Japanese Arny during World War II. At the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street. Reviewed July 28, 2018.

THIS AIN'T NO DISCO  Send This Review to a Friend

The creators of this rock opera, presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, can’t seem to make up their minds if this is mainly an ode to the long-departed Studio 54 or a tale of messed up characters who become part of the scene. The result is a hodgepodge, although a very vigorously staged and choreographed mess, with songs that only occasionally hit an emotional mark. “This Ain’t No Disco” ain’t no winner, although there is plenty to ogle and all of the performers, main and supporting, work their often-shaking butts off.

The audience is greeted by a mélange of scaffolding at the sides of the stage, with stairs for the performers to run up and down, and with the show’s musicians perched atop. The lighting is blazing, the music blaring. Costumes range from scanty to comically elaborate. Some of the lyrics are clear, others add up to amplified belting that becomes hard to decipher.

Creators with previously proven talent put the disappointing production together. Music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz, with a book by Trask, Yanowitz and Rick Elice. The direction is by Darko Tresnjak, with busy but repetitious choreography by Camille A. Brown and music direction by Darius Smith.

Looking back at my own experience, I went only as a press invitee to parties held at Studio 54, but can attest that in such situations the popular spot that earned renown in the late 1970s had an ambiance little like the joint garishly distilled in this production. Most authentic is a barrier created in one sequence with people standing behind it and anxious to be admitted as a sign of status and attractiveness.

Getting to the characters, there is Theo Stockman as co-owner Steve Rubell, whose real name is used. He along with his business partner Ian Schrager, defended by lawyer Roy Cohn, were eventually jailed in 1980 for tax fraud and other charges. (Rubell was known to be gay and he reportedly died of illness related to AIDS.) Stockman plays him so over-the-top gay that it borders on caricature.

The most sympathetic character is Sammy, mother of a young son, and a seriously troubled woman, portrayed by Samantha Marie Ware. She yearns to become a singing star, and Ware flashes a powerful voice unleashed in the show’s best numbers. Her close friend is hustler Chad (Peter LaPrade), who is also a failing painter named Rake.

There is Binky, brassily played by Chilina Kennedy, a publicist with an eye toward notoriety. Kennedy at least makes the most of her opportunities to sing and be comedic.

Will Connolly, called The Artist, is obviously meant to be Andy Warhol, who wanders through the show as a Studio 54 devotee, mostly understated and unconvincing, and eventually getting a chance to sing unimpressively. Add to the mix two hatcheck gals, one a trans-sexual, who fall in love with each other, played by Krystina Alabado and Lulu Fall, and other characters making up the misfired efforts to forge an involving drama.

The total effect of the rock opera is numbing. One waits in hope that it can somehow be pulled together convincingly, but it's as if one were left waiting outside the rope to get into the real Studio 54. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed July 27, 2018.

THE ORIGINALIST  Send This Review to a Friend

Given my opposition to most of the votes by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I came to “The Originalist” with a great deal of skepticism. Surprisingly, I find the play with Scalia at the center of it engaging and intellectually stimulating, even though nothing changes my opinions. Yes, a lot of the back and forth arguments in chambers between Scalia and his clerk as depicted seem unlikely, but they are nonetheless engrossing, thanks largely to the acting as well as the writing by playwright John Strand.

The drama, crisply directed by Molly Smith and presented by Middle Finger Productions, LLC in association with Arena Stage, stars the excellent Edward Gero as Scalia, and he quite resembles the justice. He is a larger than life presence on stage, with a booming voice, a confrontational manner and likable as a person whether or not one agrees with his decisions. He reminded me of seeing the film “RBG,” which shows the warm friendship between him and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg despite their polarized views.

Tracy Ifeachor is appealing and convincing as Cat, the black lesbian clerk Scalia hires, a feisty, especially bright and liberal young woman who provides the counterpoint to the judge’s views in impassioned arguments that open the way for clarifying legal positions.

Scalia is dogmatic and passionate about explaining his Originalist stance. He argues that the U.S. Constitution should be followed as it stands, with current issues of social change not explicitly covered in the Constitution formulated by Congress, not be decreed from the bench. This view, to cite examples, results in rulings against such issues as the right of women to have abortions and the rights of gays and lesbians. Scalia cloaks all of this as in line with democracy. Cat accuses him of hypocrisy. (The second amendment to the Constitution, if one adheres to the letter of it, speaks of the right to bear arms in relation to security of a free state, not to everyone being able to walK around with automatic rifles.)

Scalia, who becomes a mentor to Cat, is depicted as relishing intellectual combat while always sure of his positions, although there is a point in the play when he bends to include wordage that she wants him to insert to make his dissent, with which she disagrees, at least more human.

There is a side drama involving Cat and Brad, well-acted by Brett Mack, an obnoxious right-wing clerk with a lower status and jealous of her position. He threatens to smear her for being a lesbian in order to curry favor with Scalia. This goes on a bit too long as a distraction, although eventually being pulled together to enable a point to be made.

The playwright favors opposing sides finding a middle ground in order for our country to advance in contrast to present polarization. Good luck with that. I stand firm in my belief that the liberal four of the current court have the high ground in the face of the court being about to swing to the right. “The Originalist” will not change views of those who share that opinion, but despite some of the play’s hokum, it has the advantage of laying out issues sharply and a performance by Gero that makes Scalia come dramatically alive even if one opposes votes he cast in the Supreme Court. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Reviewed July 20, 2018.

TEVYE SERVED RAW--GARNISHED WITH JEWS  Send This Review to a Friend

Callling all Jews, and non-Jews too. Three talented people acting in Yiddish (and a “bisl” English) are providing an entertaining delve into stories by the celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, some of which inspired “Fiddler on the Roof.” Keeping faith with the master, there is a combination of the humorous and the serious in the chosen stories depicting life for Jews in Russian “shtetls.”

Non-Yiddish speaking folk need not worry. There are English titles projected, and some translations are verbal, often delivered hilariously. The trio consists of Shane Baler, Yelena Shmulenson and Allen Lewis Rickman. The writings by Sholem Aleichem were adapted and translated by Rickman and Baker, with Rickman directing. The intimate show is being presented by the Congress for Jewish Culture, i.a.w. Benjamin Feldman and Khobzey Inbud, L.L.C.

The cast is extremely versatile. Rickman is very poignant as Tevye facing the prospect of having to argue with a priest to gain access to his daughter, who is being confined while converting to marry her non-Jewish boyfriend. He also tugs at heartstrings when ordered to leave town.

But he can also be uproariously funny in an encounter on a train. Likewise, Yelena Shmulenson, who handles the various women’s roles in the stories, is a wonderful actress/comedienne. In the show‘s encore she has the task of heaping a rat-a-tat barrage of Yiddish insults while Baker keeps up a furious pace of translations in addition to those posted. It doesn’t seem possible that any insults are left out, and for those who understand and savor Yiddish the sketch has special appeal.

Baker is deft at playing a variety of parts requiring him to assume different garb and attitudes. He is kind of the show’s anchor, and can be pleasingly funny in the positions he assumes, as well as nasty when playing the Russian orthodox priest rebuffing Tevye.

The Playroom Theater in which the show is simply mounted is compact, and that makes for audiences feeling intimately connected with the very likable cast. The performances come across as a salute to the preservation of Yiddish, as well as further evidence of how creative Sholem Aleichem was in capturing a way of life with its pleasures and perils. The production is enhanced by Alex Ryaboy’s original music. At the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street. Phone: 1-800-838-3006.

  

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