Home > Carol Davis, Eileen Wingard, Gaza, Holocaust~Shoah, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Theatre, West Bank > ‘The Show Across the Street’ and then some

‘The Show Across the Street’ and then some

Carol Davis

By Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO–The 17th annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Arts Festival: ‘A Joyous Celebration of Art and Soul’ spread its program across the June calendar offering a variety of art, dance, music and theatre. Here are some impressions of the programs yours truly was able to attend. 

The first offering, The Show Across the Street presented by Teatro Punto y Coma (a world premiere Jewish comedy in English) at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Space (where most programs were held) was presented early in June.

Billed as an attempt at creating an ‘unofficial’ sequel to Fiddler on the Roof, a Jewish Mexican -American theatre troupe gathers in an empty space (across the street from where a successful run of “Fiddler” is playing) to write a musical comedy about who and what the then characters in “Fiddler” might look like/ be like and act like now.

Written and directed by Robert Moutal and choreographed by Dalia Feldman, it is based on a story by Pepe Stepensky and stars no less than seven actors, all attempting (at various levels of competency) to write the new musical. Their input will be assembled and coordinated by director, Sam Rabinowitz (Solo Maya) who sold his worldly possessions to own this theatre across the street from ….

Rabinowitz, it is noted is a failed director. OY!

My understanding was that this was the first time it had been performed in English having been written in Spanish in the Teatro Punta y Coma style. To be honest, I might have enjoyed it more in Spanish; it might have liberated the actors.

On opening night, The Space was filled to capacity with supporters from the Ken Jewish Community. The Ken underwrote the show and from the responses of the audience, everyone seemed to be having a fun time. As for this reviewer’s reaction, it is my firm belief that some things just don’t translate well and some things get lost in translation. I couldn’t find much to laugh about when the rest of the audience did. I don’t think I’m the audience this company was reaching out to.

The company, hard as it tried, was all over the place working to come up with ideas for a sequel to “Fiddler” but ‘all the kings horses and all the king’s men’, the use of videos, cameras, music and dance (the best part of the evening) couldn’t put this Humpty Dumpty idea together again.

Might it be still be a work in progress?

I was able to get my fix of Yale Strom’s Klezmer and Hot P’Stromi music and John Malashock’s dance group with the presentation of “Malashock Dance with Yale Strom: Chagall” (a work in progress presented for the first time for this Festival and thoughtfully reviewed by dance critic Sheila Orysiek) following a wonderfully delightful feast of music and song with Elizabeth Schwartz and the Hot P’Stromi gang. The evening ended with pieces from Malashock’s “Tribes”. This complete dance program had a spectacular airing at the North Park Mary Birch Theatre in 1996.

Strom, who has been associated with the Jewish Arts Festival since its inception as a musician and composer, is a renowned expert on Klezmer music. He is always a welcome sight. His sounds resonate no matter if it’s Klezmer, accompanying Malashock or having his lovely Elizabeth singing in her own full, rich voice in Yiddish. (“Rozkinkes mit Mandln”… ‘Apricots and Almonds’ I believe he told me). It almost sounded like a lullaby to me. I love listening to Yiddish music. That was a treat.

I next headed north to the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach where they hosted two play readings. According to Artistic director, David Ellenstein, “The theatre is always pleased to host these readings”. For the past several years this theatre has been involved.

Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant is a finished play having been performed over the years at different venues. In 1993, Dan Wingard (son of one of our Women Of Valor recipients, Eileen) played the part of Haskell Harelik in The Immigrant. At the play reading, Mark read the part of his grandfather Haskell (name change to be sure) who arrived on the shores of Galveston, Texas in 1909.

If memory serves, the play has been updated since, with comments and photos from the playwright’s family collection. In the end Harelik then spoke as his father.

Harelik’s play is part memory, part tribute to his family and part valentine. The story he weaves about the immigrant who doesn’t speak a word of English, who chooses to stay as the only Jew in the community in the godforsaken gulf coast town of Hamilton, Texas, population 1,200 (then) to sell bananas from his push cart, who is helped by the (very convenient) town’s only banker and his wife and who becomes more assimilated as he grows his business, is a rags to riches story.

The account laced with bits of Jewish humor, history, some glossed over anti Semitism and coupled with a fortuitous encounter with the lone banker, Milton Perry (who helped finance Haskell’s business dealings) and his wife, is a tapestry of what life looked like for the immigrant Jews in the hinterlands at the turn of the century.

In fact, several of Harelik’s relatives still reside in Hamilton, Texas. All four of his uncles graduated high school in Hamilton and served in the different branches of the military during WW II.  Harelik’s Dad, who stayed behind after his brothers moved away, took over the family business and turned it into a bigger, more diversified department store where it stands today. His Dad passed away in 2007 well in to his nineties.

Steve Lipinsky directed The Immigrant with Harelik as Haskell, Linda Libby as his wife Leah, Richard Doyle as Milton Perry, (the bank owner) and Jennifer Parsons as Ima Perry. It was interesting to watch as the play progressed, all four growing older at play’s end and that’s without a stitch of a makeup change. It’s called great acting.

One of the most impressive parts of the evening that struck me more that anything was the family photo collection.  At first glance, I felt I was having a Fiddler On the Roof moment when the show opened with ethnic music in the background, pictures of pogroms and shtetls in Russia and finally early century authentic scenes from Hamilton County, TX.

If the play ever comes back, I recommend you see it. I’m guessing we all have those stories. Harelik just put them to paper.

Lionel Goldstein’s Mandate Memories (He’s looking for a new title) is definitely a work in progress. Director David Ellenstein told the audience that we were the first and only audience to hear this play as it is, so far. Goldstein, who has collaborated with Ellenstein in the past (Halpern and Johnson a comedy drama about love, truth and memories), wrote the play as a sort of rebuttal to the anti Semitism so rampant in the London press and BBC in general and to British playwright Caryl Churchill in particular.

Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, A Play for Gaza, written in 2009 in response to the bombing of Gaza, is a ten minute play that lasts a lifetime in the minds and hearts of Jews everywhere who firmly believe Churchill is not only anti Semitic but anti Israel. The play was reviewed by yours truly (in July of 2009) after having attended a program at the now defunct 6th @ Penn Theatre called the Resilience Festival. The companion piece to “Children” was called Welcome to Ramallah by Sonja Linden and Adah Kay. 

At the time Churchill wrote Seven Jewish Children, playwright Israel Horowitz wrote What Strong Fences Make advocating that one could criticize Israel without being anti Semitic just as one could criticize Palestine without being anti Arab. He goes on: “Those who criticize Jews in the name of criticizing Israel, as Ms. Churchill seems to have done in her play, step over an unacceptable boundary and must be taken to task”)

Goldstein’s play is loaded with a combination of ideas, tutorials and wandering thoughts. If it is in fact a rebuttal to Churchill (which one would never know unless one read the playwright’s notes and or knew about Caryl Churchill) he goes about it in such a convoluted way that makes it too wordy, instructive to an historical point and too wandering. And why does it need to be a rebuttal? The story, once edited and complete, should stand on its own.

His characters, June Stirling (Rosina Reynolds) is a 62 year old ‘once widowed, once divorced homemaker and Gustav Frolich (Robert Grossman), an eighty something year old survivor’ of the camps meet up one sunny day at Stirling’s English countryside home. They have never met before and it is at his request, under the guise of his having a letter for her that he has come to deliver, she allows him in to her home.

She is curious, polite and a bit turned off by the intrusion. He is an arrogant, evasive and skilled storyteller who beats around the bush at every question she asks while attempting to get his story out. We learn about his background, his Holocaust experience, his being in Israel (Palestine) at the time the British were in charge, and his fighting for the Irgun (they called it a terrorist origination). All this exposition comes with a history lesson like a schoolteacher teaching a class to one of his students.

But the bait that keeps him there is the letter he claims he has along with the stories he tells about her deceased father, a British officer who was minding the store for England even after the Balfour Declaration was signed. The history lesson (all can be found on line) in essence allowed for the establishment in Palestine for a homeland for the Jewish people does bring a rise in her but is quelled by more stories of her father.

Her birth father, it is revealed, died before she was born and she was curious to learn more about him and how he died. So much of his telling felt like a never-ending odyssey. By the time he finally got to the nitty gritty of his what he was all about, my mind was wandering.

Underneath all the talk is a lovely story of redemption, forgiveness, truth and coming to terms with one’s self. It is a combination Holocaust tale without being a Holocaust story. It is a story of forgiveness without asking for outright exoneration; it is a story of truth told in a way that we know truth exists inside as well as outside.

Mandate Memories is a humbling and inspiring look into a proud people who have suffered, caused suffering and are now looking to make peace. And it is the beginning process of a new play. Both Reynolds and Grossman make it seem real. Hopefully Goldstein will take some of the suggestions given at the talk back (after the reading) and work some of them in while cutting some of the original to give it a bit more viability for a commercial success. 

The Klezmer Summit (with free Knishes) on June 21st at 7:30 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre wraps up the Festivities.

Se you at the theatre.

Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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