On Second Avenue
A joyful romp through historical Yiddish theatre
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 21 juin 2012
Don’t miss the chance to see the acclaimed, yet rarely performed Yiddish musical On Second Avenue this month at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts. The colourful play, composed of short skits and songs, animates the evolution of Yiddish theatre from late 19th century Romania to its storied peak in 1940s New York City. A multi-talented cast from the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) sings and dances through a wide variety of entertaining sketches.
As most of the play is performed in Yiddish, the actors worked hard to perfect their pronunciation with the help of a dialect coach. A large screen above the stage runs subtitles in English and French, where necessary.
The play ushers in what the DWYT’s new artistic director Audrey Finkelstein calls a “new era” for the group. As former DWYT and Segal Centre director Bryna Wasserman has moved on to the National Theatre-Folksbiene in New York, she hands the torch to Finkelstein, who has performed with the company “since childhood.” However, Wasserman, now DWYT’s honorary artistic director, returns to codirect On Second Avenue with Finkelstein in what will be the last play of the season.
“Two generations of Yiddish theatre aficionados, co-directing this musical journey through the history of Yiddish theatre, is the perfect way to usher in a new era for the DWYT,” said the Segal’s artistic producer Paul Flicker.
Written by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, the musical takes us from the beginning of Yiddish theatre in Romanian barns and taverns to the marquee theatres on Second Avenue. The homage to the legendary community on Lower East Side’s Second Avenue, mostly made up of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, nods to the centrality of theatre as a way for the community to remember the “old country.” To cite the play itself: “To the immigrants on Eldridge Street, working in sweatshops, theatre was everything… On the stage they saw themselves.”
Throughout the play, as well as in history, the caricatural shtetl (small town) stories about superstitions and everyday problems evolve into more sophisticated numbers such as operettas and politically-themed sketches. Amid slapstick skits and punchline-trading numbers, a tragic wartime love story adds poignancy and “Jenny Runs for Mayor” demonstrates women’s historic fight for equality in politics.
A central motif, food, is frequently used to evoke the bustling character of the neighbourhood: the mouth-watering smells of the blintzes, knishes, and hot dogs of Second Avenue are each celebrated through nostalgic song, performed with the help of a live band directed by John Gilbert. Sam Stein, who has been involved with DWYT for 47 years, performs alongside newcomers such as Jordana Singer. Spectators will hear well-loved Yiddish songs including Abi Gezunt, Yidl Mitn Fidl, and Belz, sung most notably by the golden-voiced Eva Petris.
On Second Avenue runs from until July 1 at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, 5170 Côte-Sainte-Catherine Rd.
[ Ingrid Wissink ]