Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Set in the early 1900s, Knish Alley tells the story of a poor troupe of Yiddish actors aboard the ocean liner SS Atlantic as it crosses from England to America. They work menial jobs on the ship by day, and perform assorted operettas on deck by night to earn their passage. Their promised land is a place in New York's lower east side on Second Avenue, known as "Knish Alley." There they hope to find a theatre to call their own, and secure their place alongside the acting legends of the early days of Yiddish theatre, such as Jacob Adler, Boris Tomashevsky and David Kessler.
Steven A. Chambers turns in a solid performance as Yoseph in this production, though he wanders in and out of his accent. Miki Edelman is enjoyable as his suspicious wife Fanny, but she and Chambers make an unconvincing couple. Kally Khourshid is sweet as Sophie and manages to establish a believable chemistry with Todd Bruno as her romantic interest. David David Hemphill is cute as the young and eager Jack, with his exclamations of "Good gravy!" Jaime Libbert-Smith is the least successful with her accent, as it seems to vary from country to country, never settling in any one spot. Her acting choices also seem very deliberate. Kevin Reilly is charming as Zelig. His Yiddish accent is thoroughly convincing and his mannerisms completely comfortable. He has the endearing feel of a grandfatherly storyteller who leaves us wanting to hear more.
The accompanying music enhances the feel of time period with precision, and the set design makes the most of the intimate space by using wall and overhead storage areas to create visual depth and texture. The only technical concerns are a couple of tardy lighting cues, and some wigs on female cast members both unattractive and out of time period. Though consistent acting pacing moves the show along as much as it can, a lengthy first act is in need of trimming. Those attending would do well to brush up with their Yiddish to English dictionary ahead of time, as considerable amounts of Yiddish flies by. There is an old world sense to the writing style of Knish Alley that makes it worn and welcome, and Finstrom's fondness for this era in history comes through in his writing. The playwright needs to remember that people go to the theatre wanting to be included in the experience, and they should not be left out of sharing in a moment because they don't have a working Yiddish vocabulary.
Other plays by Tony Finstrom previously produced in South Florida include Larger-Than-Life at the Public Theatre of South Florida and As Fate Would Have It, or The Famous Tragic History Of Lady Jane Grey at Fort Lauderdale's Footlights Inc. Theater Company. The latter received a Carbonell Award nomination for Best New Work and was named City Link's Best Play of the Season. Finstrom received a Remy Award for outstanding service to the theatre community in 2006 and a Silver Palm Award for his outstanding contribution to the 2008 South Florida Theatre Festival. He is also a Carbonell Awards Judge and serves as an executive board member of the Theatre League of South Florida.
Knish Alley will appear in Theatre #2 at the Stage Door Theatre through August 30, 2009. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company, hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you can contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.