Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see David's review of Menopause: The Musical
This is the back story of the play Yentl, which is based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy." The stage version was written by Leah Napolin and Singer. This is not the same script as the movie Yentl, which starred Barbra Streisand.
At the death of her father, Yentl leaves her home to go to another village where she would have the opportunity to enroll in a yeshiva (an all-male school for studying Jewish law). Under the guise of a Jewish boy, Yentl develops a friendship with Avigdor, who never seems to think this small boy is really a woman. Yentl and Avigdor become close and under other circumstances, perhaps, would marry.
But he marries an older woman who owns a store. He hungers to continue his education and the chance to read, but his wife wants him to work in the store.
Yentl eats dinner one night a week at the home of a local family. Yentl and Pesha, the daughter of the family, talk while Yentl eats. Finally, Pesha indicates an affection for Yentl (remember, she thinks Yentl is male).
In a moment of true madness, Yentl proposes marriage to Pesha and the ceremony takes place. They live together for a year without Pesha realizing she is married to another woman.
This production is enhanced by the consultation of Rabbi Enid C. Lader. The cast and crew work with an authority growing from historical and religious accuracy.
Rebecca Gibel creates a Yentl who is dedicated to the Torah, education, and to finding her way in the world. Gibel has boundless energy, which establishes the tone for the production. In one scene the men in the yeshiva, Yentl's classmates, go swimming to escape the oppressive heat. They invite Yentl to go with them. Of course, the guys will be skinny dipping. When her best friend Avigdor struts on stage, nude, to invite Yentl to swim, he unleashes great angst in her. She has never seen a nude male. She is both horrified and intrigued. But, quickly looks away.
Ben Mehl creates an Avigdor who has a charming innocence. This man cannot begin to think his best friend might something different than what he has been told. Avigdor struggles with his need to learn and his yearning for sex and female companionship.
Yentl has a large ensemble cast of 17. One of the local members of the cast is the acclaimed actress Dorothy Silver, who plays Yachna. Seven members of the cast are members of the third-year graduate ensemble of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Acting Program. One in that group, Bernard Bygott, has performed in the Ohio Shakespeare Festival with success.
Michael Perlman, the director, does an excellent job of melding the talents of these 17 performers into an ensemble, providing the audience with a moving, thought-provoking production.
Robin Vest designed a one-unit set that provides a workable home for all of the play's action. The set appears to be a four-level stadium, where performers sit waiting for their next scene.
Jenny Mannis designed historically-accurate costumes in mostly earth tones. The costumes are stage worthythat is, they move easily with the dances and other action in the production.
The Cleveland Play House offers this exciting, thought-provoking production in the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare through February 2nd. Unfortunately, this excellent production will not be touring and the run cannot be extended. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
The next production offered by the Cleveland Play House will be Breath and Imagination, (February 14 through March 9, 2014), which deals with African-American tenor Roland Hayes. Elija Rock will play Hayes.
- David Ritchey