February 21st, 2018

Buczacz: The life and death of a Jewish town

Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, by Omer Bartov, 398 pages, Simon & Schuster, $30

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Little is needed to shatter the veneer of ethnic coexistence, as tragically illustrated in Buczacz, once an attractive city in Galicia, now in western Ukraine.

In 1921, its 13,000 people were Poles, Ukrainians and, about half the population, Jews. The groups had lived relatively amicably for centuries until World War I lifted the lid on a submerged cauldron of resentments and hatreds.

Anatomy of a Genocide, a work of 20 years, seeks to “reconstruct the life of Buczacz in all its complexity,” says author Omer Bartov, a Brown University European history professor and author of four previous war and Shoah-related books.

Buczacz, birthplace of Nobel Laureate S.Y. Agnon, was taken over in 1612 by the Polish Potocki clan, which ruled for 150 years, welcoming and protecting Jews, says Bartov, whose mother was raised there. Austria took over in 1772. Keep reading →

February 21st, 2018

Yehuda Hyman: An ‘Indecent’ dance

Choreographer Yehuda Hyman discusses bringing Jewish dance to the Guthrie

by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor

Paula Vogel’s play Indecent, opening Feb. 23 at the Guthrie, presents a special, explicitly Jewish challenge in staging.

The play is filled with music — there is a live klezmer band onstage — and, over the course of the play, the cast must dance to the music. Moreover, several of the dances are meant to be historic Jewish dances from Europe.

Yehuda Hyman, far right, oversees dance rehearsals for Indecent at the Guthrie Theater. (Marita Albinson)

Adding to this complication, for the most part the cast of this production are neither dancers nor Jewish. So what to do?

The Guthrie was fortunate in that, as it happens, there is a choreographer who is ideal for the show: Yehuda Hyman, actor, dancer, playwright, and scholar of Jewish dance, who spoke to American Jewish World about the pleasures and challenges of working on this play.

Indecent retells the tale of a Yiddish play, God of Vengeance. Playwright Sholem Asch offered an unsparing look at a family in conflict. In the play, the father is an abusive brothel owner playacting at piety in order to marry his daughter off to a Jewish scholar. His daughter, in the meanwhile, is desperate to escape, especially as she develops a lesbian relationship with one of the prostitutes. The play’s Broadway debut in 1923 was the first time a lesbian kiss had been staged on the Great White Way; the entire cast was arrested on an obscenity charge. Keep reading →

February 7th, 2018

David Margulies: Betraying a mentor

Lessons can be learned from David Margulies’ Collected Stories

By DORIS RUBENSTEIN

Collected Stories, opening Feb. 24 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, has only two characters, but the accolades it has garnered over the years since its 1996 debut pack a mighty theatrical wallop.

Donald Margulies, author of Collected Stories, which will soon open at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (Photo: Writer’s Guild of America East)

To start with, David Margulies’ play won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Production of a Play and Best Original Play after its 1996 debut at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Cal., and then became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1997.

It’s been more than 20 years now since the play’s debut. Is it still relevant?

In an interview posted on the MJTC blog, Margulies says, “I suspect that the themes explored in the play are just as resonant today as they were when it was first produced over 20 years ago, arguably even more so. Cultural appropriation, intellectual property, who has the right to tell certain stories and who doesn’t — all of these topics may be more part of our social discourse than they were in 1996. Set in the 90s, it even contains a then-current discussion of Woody Allen’s boundary issues, which are very much back in the news.”

This reporter thinks that the recent #MeToo movement makes it even more relevant since the play’s two characters are both women — strong women with their own careers and their own minds.

The list of actresses who have performed one of the two roles, that of a mature woman of a certain age (who happens to be Jewish as well) named Ruth Steiner, reads like a Who’s Who of late 20th century theater: Uta Hagen, Linda Lavin, Lynn Redgrave and even Helen Mirren. Who in our community would have the strength and experience to take on this role?

Maggie Bearmon Pistner steps up to the plate. “When I read the script, I wanted to be in it! I love everything about it. It’s an honor to perform the role of Ruth in this play,” she declared in an interview with American Jewish World.

Keep reading →