‘The Penitent’ is not absolved

How it’s New York: The play is by acclaimed playwright David Mamet, who is a founding member of one of NYC’s finest residential theatres, Atlantic Theatre Company.
How it’s (Irish) English & Jirish: Rebecca Pidgeon, who plays one of the four roles, has dual British/American citizenship. The play is Jirish because the main character is Jewish and has recently turned to religion to deal with his guilt.

Is it better than “China Doll?”

That’s the burning question.

It is. But honestly, that’s a low bar.

You may remember that David Mamet’s 2015 play, “China Doll,”  starred Al Pacino, who notoriously couldn’t remember his lines. The Broadway play was bad. It wasn’t entirely Pacino’s fault , because who in the Hell casts a movie star in a roll in which he basically has a long monologue (on the phone) for half an hour?  (Yes, Pacino has done a lot of stage work, but not in a while.)

In contrast, “The Penitent” has a series of two-person scenes. There is conflict. (There’s also some clumsy exposition.) There are characters. There is some decent acting (though Rebecca Pidgeon is so horrifically affected she was difficult to watch. She actually waited mid-line to be interrupted. Seriously, acting students know better.)

One could even say, “The Penitent” is GREAT!

Great, that is, if you know nothing about law, psychiatry or Judaism. (more…)

‘If I Forget’ asks when does history predict the future?

How it’s New York: Characters in the play live in Park Slope, and the play is a production of the Roundabout Theatre Company, one of New York’s most important residential theatres.
How it’s (Irish) Jirish: The play centers on the question of what the Holocaust means to Jewish identity, but in its family dynamics and many of its concerns with the past and the future, will feel very relevant to Irish-Americans too.

The adult sibling relationships in Steven Levenson’s ambitious new drama “If I Forget” are hilariously, and sadly, convincing. The Fischer family children–Michael (Jeremy Shamos), Holly (Kate Walsh, yes that Kate Walsh, of “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Sharon (Maria Dizzia) have just the right amount of in-jokes, shared history and buttons that are pushed, resentments and affection that anyone who’s got them will feel a jolt of pleasant, and uncomfortable, recognition.

The plot of the play, which won the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, is less compelling, despite terrific performances by the cast, which also include Larry Bryggman as elderly father Lou,  Tasha Lawrence as Michael’s wife Ellen, Gary Wilmes as Holly’s attorney husband Howard, and Seth Steinberg as Holly’s teenage son-from-a-prior-marriage Joey.

Wading into Arthur Miller territory, Levenson (best known for his libretto to “Dear Evan Hansen”) centers Act One around the question of Jewish identity vis-a-vis the Holocaust. It’s Miller territory because Michael, a Jewish Studies professor who has been “recommended for tenure,” has a book titled “Forgetting the Holocaust” in galleys. Its thesis  suggests that American Jews make too much of the Holocaust and it’s time to forget about it. He delivers well-constructed impassioned speeches, but nobody offers an equally impassioned, articulate rebuttal. Fortunately for the play, the drama doesn’t center so much around this question that it becomes about it. (more…)

Never Again: marathon reading of Elie Weisel’s “Night”

How it’s New York: Readers in the marathon include New York politicians, artists, human rights/social Elie_Wiesel_(1987)_by_Erling_Mandelmann_-_2justice activists and more; all nationalities. Readings take place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
How it’s (Irish) Jirish: The Holocaust is arguably the defining event for Jews in the 2oth century. For those who think it was a long time ago: this writer would have dual citizenship today if my extended family hadn’t been slaughtered. Also for Irishness: David Hyde Pierce, one of the readers, is indeed part Irish. And then there’s NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was Friday, Jan. 27th. In these times it’s e urgent to “remember never to forget.”

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene present a marathon reading of “Night,” by Elie Weisel, to, as the press release states,

“unite voices from around the world in a chorus against prejudice and hatred.”

NightWieselThe tribute to Nobel Peace laureate Wiesel, and his Holocaust memoir, “Night,” will begin at 3 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place.

The readings will take place in several languages, including French and Yiddish.

“Since Wiesel wrote “Night” in Yiddish, then published it in French and then English, the readings will be primarily in English, as well as in a number of other languages, including its original French and Yiddish.”

Some of the readers, according to the release,

“have had first-hand experience reporting on, fighting and overcoming racial, ethnic, and religious hatred. Elisha Wiesel, Wiesel’s son, will also participate.”

Prior to the reading, from 12pm to 2pm, a number of distinguished Holocaust survivors will share their testimonies in the Museum’s Core Exhibition.  The continuous reading is expected to last to  8 p.m.

Elisha Wiesel, Elie Weisel’s son, said in a release:

“At a time when this country is feeling so divided, when so much negativity is circulating about those who are different from ourselves – those who have different ethnicities, religions or even different political leanings – my father’s words are an important reminder of the dangers of the ‘us versus them’ mentality.  My family and I are grateful to the Museum of Jewish Heritage for hosting this community reading of ‘Night’ at this very important moment in our history.”

The event is free, but completely sold-out with reservations. However, it will be live-streamed. Check www.mjhnyc.org for details.

Participants include: Tovah Feldshuh; Joel Grey; David Hyde Pierce; Itzhak Perlman;

Joel Grey ©Henry Leutwyler

Joel Grey ©Henry Leutwyler

Rwandan anti-genocide activists Jean-Baptists Rudatsikira, Jaqueline Murekatete and Consolee Nishimwe; Geraldo Rivera; Dr. Ruth Westheimer and many more, including Consul General of Germany Brita Wagener.

I’m particularly eager to hear Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center and author of the terrific book “Outwitting History,” about the resecue of Yiddish books about to be thrown out by immigrants.

I think speakers of Irish will be able to relate.

See the full schedule after the jump.

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Do you know this tune? Fairy tale in the Catskills, or McGrath’s Waltz

IMG_3709

Eileen O’Brien plays piano at a Seisún at McGrath’s.

How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in East Durham, New York. Everybody comes!
How it’s Irish: Historically an Irish town,  the Emerald Isle of the Catskills, the week is a teaching week for music, with a “camp” for kids (some of whom are fierce, fierce players!) and classes in Irish dance and culture too.

I believe that the Good Folk travel.

Like the Fiddler on the Roof (there’s your Jirish reference!) some of them hopped on board the backs of carts, then went on  ships with their people, off to Amerikay.

Off to New York. Saratoga. East Durham.

One of them (at least) taught me a tune in the Catskills last summer, at McGrath’s Motel. (more…)

Mick Moloney’s “An Irish Christmas” brings holiday spirit in

How it’s New York: Presented by the Irish Arts Center and Symphony Space, this Irish Christmas concert has come to feel as much a part of the
Gabriel Byrne, courtesy of IAC

Gabriel Byrne, courtesy of IAC

season as The Nutcracker. The blending of songs and traditions is oh so New York.
How it’s Irish: It has something of the feel of an Irish house party, Mick says.

Gabriel Byrne was one of the special guests at “An Irish Christmas,” presented by the Irish Arts Center at Symphony Space last weekend. Dr. Mick Moloney has been organizing these events which blend music, dance, interview and readings. Byrne discussed his fond memories of actor Peter O’Toole, who had just died that day, and also read some of his own works-in-progress. Other special guests included Congressman Joseph Crowley, dancer Wayne Daniels, Grace Nono, Tamar Korn, guitar player and filmmaker Macdara Vallely.

The concert began with the “Trip to Athlone” medley, which has begun it most years, featuring Mick on banjo, Athena Tergis and Liz Hanley on fiddle, Donna Long on piano (who brings a lot of great rhythm and harmony to the table) and Billy McComiskey on accordion… with Niall O’Leary, “the dancing architect,” joining in too. It’s always a rousing way to begin the event.

Congressman Joseph Crowley and Mick Moloney (courtesy of IAC)

Congressman Joseph Crowley and Mick Moloney (courtesy of IAC)

New this year was Liz’s powerful singing of “Carol of the Birds,” in which all the birds find religion. It was a haunting, evocative tune that suited her husky voice. The first special guest of the evening was Congressman Joe Crowley, interviewed by Mick. Did you know Crowledy could sing? well, I didn’t– and it turns out he used to sing in bars back in the day. He did a lovely version of “Raglan Road” (he called it “Dawning of the Day,” but that’s actually another, much older song; poet Patrick Kavanaugh uses the refrain “dawning of the day” and Luke Kelly put it to that tune, but the song “Dawning of the Day” is a 19th-century song, set to an even older air. Just had to point that out.)

Mick’s interview with Crolwey and later with Byrne were outstanding– relaxed, funny, getting sharp insights and fascinating stories from both men.

(more…)

One-day event dedicated to genealogy in NYC

How it’s New York: If America is a melting pot, the simmer went on in New York. So many people landed here when they emigrated.
How it’s Irish: Irish people are particularly interested in their heritage– those that don’t know it already. But others are too. This is also Jirish. Stop searching for an ancestor in a cemetary– attend this special one-day event.
A One Day Event Dedicated To Genealogy (via PR Newswire)

November 2 Event to Help Beginners and Experienced Genealogists Acquire Skills for Family History Research Download image 2012 attendees learning how DNA can further their family history research. (PRNewsFoto/BBNY Group LLC) NEW YORK, Oct. 29, 2013 /…

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Confession Is Good for the Soul

How it’s New York: There are a lot of American Jews in the Tri-State, enough that many public schools close on the Jewish High Holidays.3680134151_8912a6c9f5
How it’s (Jirish) Irish: Confession is a hallmark of Catholicism.

There’s something truly cleansing about confessing one’s sins. Jews don’t have weekly confession and absolution, nor a deathbed reckoning, exactly. We’ve got it once a year, though, and it begins tonight.

Tonight, Sept. 13, 2013, marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, 5744, with the service known as Kol Nidre. “Kol Nidre” means “All Vows,” and it means all vows we might have made in the past year to G-d are null and void. (Not the other vows. You still have to pay your mortgage.) And we begin chanting a prayer called “Al Het” that we’ll say again tomorrow, listing all of our sins. We thump on our chests when we list each one, which is weirdly satisfying.

“Our” sins is the important point. There’s a long list of them, and we recite them as a congregation. We’re not in a confessional, and we say them all together so nobody knows exactly which ones apply. Hopefully, nobody there has done all of them, and maybe there are a few nobody has done, but odds are everyone has done one or two (people thump harder on those).

I’m guilty of a few. “Wanton glances,” check.  “Idle gossip,” yep. Maybe even “leading others astray.” (Which, define, but probably, check..) One thing that is important is that you can’t be forgiven by G-d for things you’ve done to other people. Only they can forgive you. But we might have done some things without knowing it, so we just read them all aloud and say sorry in a big group, which helps a little.

The idea is to  to get it all off your chest (maybe why thumping helps) and resolve not to do them anymore. That’s the only kind of repentance that matters. It’s a fast day, too, so that the only thing you’re thinking about is repentance and atoning. You’re afflicting the soul. No water. It’s not a health fast and it lasts for 25 hours.  (If you’re sick or shouldn’t fast, of course you don’t.) “Have an easy fast” is a typical Yom Kippur greeting. (more…)

May You Be Sealed: Yom Kippur

This is a reprint of the post I did last year — while the events are now a year old, the basic ideas in this post haven’t changed one bit. And I love me some Joley… hope you all are sealed for a wonderful, wonderful year!

How It’s New York:  Today I got a text from Kelly Glover, an African-American friend I used to work with at Law &Order, wishing me the best for the holiday.  In New York, if you’re alert, you’re aware of the major Jewish holidays.  There will be little PSAs on local news.  Having lived loads of other places, I find that incredibly comforting.

How It’s Irish:  On Rosh Hashana, our new synagogue president Jonathan Engel, a professor, told a story of an Irish colleague who asked him what to say on the holidays, and how the colleague learned the phrase and came in and said in a lilt, “G’mar hatima Tovah,” putting the accent on the middle syllable, which made us all laugh.  In a nice way.  I find many of my Irish friends absolutely fascinated by Jewishness.  Séamus Begley said “Jews are quare hawks,” to me at 11th Street Bar last year (Pauline Turley explained what it means– not odd, but rare).  And of course, the Irish know about guilt, too.

 “G’Mar Hatima Tovah”  means, may you be sealed for a good year, in the Book of Life.  The Book has been open since Rosha Hashana (New Year’s) Ten days ago.  We had ten days to reflect, repent, atone, and apologize.  Tomorrow night it closes, with some last blows of the shofar (Ram’s horn).  In the meantime, we won’t be eating or drinking.

Kol Nidre means “all vows.”  All vows are absolved tonight, but it doesn’t mean vows to banks– I’l lstill have credit card debt tomorrow– but vows made to G-d.  We do this communally, and in that sense it’s different from a Catholic confessional.  We read aloud all the sins and beat our breasts (I kind of like the little thump myself).  My mother’s favorite has always been the one that translates into “we have been stiff-necked.”

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, and even people who aren’t observant at all generally won’t work on this day.  Sandy Koufax famously did not pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series.  And then there’s the Jazz Singer, in which Al Jolson, a Cantor’s son who wants to be a jazz singer, rushes home for Kol Nidre when his dad can’t lead the service.  Hi sings Kol Nidre while his father listens on his deathbed.

It’s pure schmaltz.

And very Irish.  “Danny Boy, anyone?”

So, in honor of the holiday, I will not be posting tonight or tomorrow until after sundown.  I will not check email or my phone. 

See you later, and may you be sealed for a good year.

Books: Mike Farragher says Back to School no Longer "Tough"

How It’s New York: Mike Farragher lives in New Jersey.

How It’s Irish: Mike is Irish-American, and officially Jirish too (note his use of “zaftig!”)

Mike Farragher is the author of This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks…we’re looking forward to the sequel, and it’s coming soon! Listen to Mike on this podcast, and read our review here!

This hilarious story was first published in IrishCentral, October 2011.

Like so many dads, I find myself this past Sunday in an outlet mall with my elbows hooked around the back of a bench while my girls diminish my net wealth by the millisecond. There’s a heightened sense of urgency around back to school shopping this year for three reasons: the hurricane wiped out a whole week of buying, the first day of autumn came early and ushered in a chill that invalidated our shorts, and one daughter is obsessed with getting her look right as she steps into high school for the first time.
As they ping-pong between stores and the bags at my feet pile up, I can’t help but be envious at the choices they have at this age. Both girls are zaftig, just like their mom and dad were in their teens. Unlike them, I didn’t have much decision in clothes at a time I needed it the most.
We certainly didn’t benefit from the proliferation of cheap Chinese clothing or sympathetic designers that catered to plus-sized teens back in the Seventies. Then there was the small matter of budget: any extra money Mom and Dad had when I was growing up either got sent home to their parents in Ireland or toward a fund to spring us out of the cramped two-family house in Jersey City and into the suburbs.
When you were an irregular shape, you had two choices: the hand-me-downs from my older cousin Robert or the husky section of Sears. Like my brother Brendan, Rob had a wiry, athletic build, so my brother usually benefited from Rob’s clothes pile.
Vertigo was the best way to describe the dizzying effect the loud checkered patterns had when stacked next to one another on the racks at Sears. The Toughskin jean was the fabric of choice for your favorite fatty, according to the sadistic designers that thought putting loud patterns on a wide rump would look attractive.
I remember how well Sears touted the new line of Toughskins children’s pants as “The toughest of Sears tough jeans…lab tests prove it!” The pants were manufactured with a blend of materials, including Dacron Type 59 polyester, DuPont 420 nylon, and cotton. If the cotton part makes you think the fabric was breathable, think again. And good look trying to bend your knees in them the first few months after purchase!
To demonstrate just how tough the new jeans were, Sears launched a famous “Tough Jeans Territory” ad campaign in 1974, in which the department store constructed a trampoline out of the Toughskin material.  Sears was so sure of the new line of pants that they were sold with a guarantee that children would grow out of their Toughskin jeans before the jeans wore out!
 That was all my mother had to see. Durability was the most important feature for my mom because there wasn’t a lot of money to spend and the chore of trying to shoe-horn my flab into new back to school gear was the kind of torture she would endure but once a year.
Altering this tough fabric was impossible. Mom would either slice the fabric with industrial sewing scissors that left a jagged edge of a hem or she’d make a cuff by rolling the seem away from my shoelaces.
Through countless years of continuous overtime work at the NJ Turnpike, my father had finally saved enough to move one summer and when I stepped into my new suburban school that September, I was a sight to behold.
Two wires strained to pull the tombstone buck teeth back into a mouth, which was situated below the bowl haircut and just above the pillowy double chin. My pale flesh spilled like an albino muffin top over the unforgiving fabric, which resisted the flab avalanche with the aid of a thick white belt. Of course, I was the laughingstock of the school while my wiry brother assimilated by scoring countless goals with the soccer team.
I took a job on a lawn service one summer and lost weight, which allowed me to fit in. Today, I just try to fit into a plane seat because I now look like the thin lawn boy Mike if he had taken on water-bloat after his lifeless self was dredged from the bottom of a lake.
“I saw some nice shirts in there,” my wife said gamely, glancing over to the Guess outlet. I know better than to waste the energy to move from the bench. I know Guess makes those “slim fit” shirts, that have no tolerance for distended stomachs like mine. If they come up with a “husky” section, maybe they’ll get my business during the next back to school season.
Here’s the original Toughskin commercial!


Theatre Review: Nice Work if You Can Get It

How It’s New York: It’s the great white way, and the show Nice Work if You Can Get It is based on an earlier show by those New York homies, George and Ira Gershwin. I guess that also makes it Jirish.
How It’s Irish: Kelli O’Hara stars, and her family are originally from Clare. Michael McGrath won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Lots of Irish names for the characters, in this musical made out of two older ones by the Gershwins.
Judy Kaye won Best Featured Actress in a Musical. 
I love love LOVED this show…”a joy from start to finish.”
This review was originally published in Irish Examiner USA, April 24, 2012.

Oh, did people want to sing during Nice Work If You Can Get It.

Lips were moving silently during the second song, the title song, a duet by Matthew Broderick, playing sweet but dim ne’er-do-well playboy Jimmy Winter, and Kelli O’Hara, as tough-but-tender bootlegger in boy’s clothes, Billie Bendix.

And I was right there with them, as tune after tune was a George and Ira Gershwin great, accompanied by a top-notch 17-piece orchestra.
Incidental music for scene-changes was drawn from more Gershwin compositions, including “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Preludes I and II” (the music is helpfully noted in the program).

If you’ve forgotten how catchy George Gershwin’s Broadway tunes are, you’ll be reminded here.
The pace is bright, jazzy and rhythmic; kudos to music supervision/arranger David Chase; music director/conductor Tom Murray. And what about Ira’s lyrics:

“…the only work that really brings enjoyment
is the kind that is for girl and boy meant
fall in love and you won’t regret it
that’s the best work of all, if you can get it…”

Those lead in to the well known refrain, “Holdin’ hands at midnight, ‘neath a starry sky…”
It’s so nice to hear the clever intros to these standards.

And boy, when we get to the chorus, we want to sing. 

This new Broadway musical, that opened April 24, is not a review, but a yummy comedy by Joe DiPietro (Memphis) very loosely based on the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! with a book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.

That musical also featured a plot around bootlegging, and included some tunes featured in Nice Work If You Can Get It, such as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” but also had some tunes that probably wouldn’t wash today, like the minstrel number “Clap Yo’ Hands.”

This new musical is a joy from start to finish, with exuberant and witty choreography from director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, smart performances from all of the cast, including the chorus, and snappy banter from author Joe DiPietro. 

Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes and Derek McLane’s scene design constantly charmed and surprised, aided by Peter Kaczorowski’s painterly lights. All of the design, including Paul Huntley’s hair and wigs, was gorgeous.

Like one of the screwball comedies of the 20s and 30s, this is a play in which every eligible person will find a match by the end of the show. The fun is watching how they get there. 

We meet Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick) at a speakeasy the night before his marriage to modern dancer Eileen Evergreen (Jennifer Laura Thompson).
A bootlegging gang of Cookie McGee (Michael McGrath), Duke Mahoney (Chris Sullivan) and Billie Bendix (O’Hara) are first delivering hooch, then fleeing when the police raid the joint. Notice all the Irish names here!

There were of course lots of Irish people involved in bootlegging.

From a chance encounter with Winter, which leads to the title duet, Billie realizes his Long Island home would be a great place to store their delivery.

The cast of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (Joan Marcus)

You can probably guess what comes next.
The gang decamps there, only to find Jimmy and his new bride arriving.
Cookie poses as a butler, while the self-absorbed Eileen (Jennifer Laura Thompson), whose outlandish dance spoofs Isadora Duncan, delays the wedding night until the right moment.
Meanwhile Billie and Jimmy fall in love.

More complications arise when Eileen’s father Senator Max Evergreen (Terry Beaver), who is also a judge and a reverend, arrive, with his sister, the stuffy Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Judy Kaye) and her Vice Squad (male dancers in stiff padded pinstripe suits, whose upper bodies move like a line of Incredible Hulks).

There are 15 songs in “Nice Work,” many of them well-beloved hits like “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “‘S Wonderful,” with a few fun but lesser known songs like “Delishious” and “Blah Blah Blah.”
You can read all of the lyrics at niceworkonbroadway.com/song-book.

“blah, blah, blah, blah moon
blah, blah, blah, above
blah, blah, blah, blah croon
blah, blah, blah, blah love”

is one of my favorites.

DiPietro has worked the songs seamlessly into the plot, for the most part, and they even move the action forward. This is quite an achievement, as it would be all too easy to write a script and put in “great Gershwin charmer here.”

Instead, we have “I’ve Got to Be There” as a hymn to Winter’s soon-to-be-lost bachelor life; “Do, Do, Do” as a reluctant seduction from brash, dumb chorine Jeannie Muldoon (Robyn Hurder) to Duke, whom she thinks is a real duke (played with stupid appeal by Chris Sullivan), and “Looking for a Boy” as a hilarious drunken admission by Dulworth, who is the uptight leader of the “Society of Dry Women.”

That “blah blah blah” song is Duke’s bashful love song to Jeannie, who hears it and is, actually, impressed, which just makes the song even funnier.

I could listen to Kelli O’Hara sing all day, and clearly I’m not alone. 

The slim blonde actress (whose family hails from County Clare) has been nominated for a Tony award three times, in Pajama Game, Light in the Piazza, and South Pacific.

It wouldn’t be surprising if this time she gets one – she plays Billie as a wise-cracking but romantic gal, and seems to have stepped out of a black and white tuner.
Her partner Cookie tells her she’s smart, and shrewd, with “the tenacity of an Irish priest at an open bar.”When she decides to distract Jimmy from noticing the bootlegged liquor in the basement by using her “female stuff,” she’s hilarious.

Her attempt at seduction has her falling on the bed with her legs in the air and wobbling on her heels.

Broderick as Jimmy at first seems a little too chubby, and his voice a little reedy – but he grows on you.He’s only a fair dancer, but his comic delivery of Jimmy’s mild but dumb observations is pitch-perfect.He tells Billie he’s not street smart, just “rich and good looking.”

When Billie confesses she lied about going to Harvard, he admits he suspected. Why? “You see, there are no girls at Harvard,” he humbly explains.
You can see the influence of Wodehouse here.

It’s McGrath as the much put-upon Cookie who runs away with the show.

Each exasperated “for crying out loud” when he’s expected to do something butler-like is hilarious, thanks to his perfect delivery.
“I for one am not going back to prison because that means spending more time with my family!” he says.
When forced to serve dinner – as Duke turns into the chef – he deadpans that if they can find the cat, there will be fish. He serves in an angry whirl, and the whole scene builds to a crescendo of hilarity when he spikes Estonia’s drink.

Kaye’s Estonia sings shrilly and comically, and she and McGrath are such perfect foils for one another they deserve a series of sequels.

Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath (Joan Marcus)

Hurder’s Muldoon has a Jersey Shore aggressiveness that is lovable and funny, and she’s quite the hoofer too.

There’s also a well-meaning but fairly simple cop, Chief Berry (Stanley Wayne Mathis) who ends up turning “You Say Tomato” into a trio with Billie and Jimmy; Mathis has a terrific voice.
And there’s a dea ex machina, when Jimmy’s mother Millicent, played by the venerable Estelle Parsons, appears.

Marshall’s choreography is breathtaking, particularly in the opening of Act II, as the chorus whirls to the tune of “Lady Be Good” (which is never sung).

I did find myself wishing for tap numbers, which would have been staples for this period.

And the pas de deux between Broderick and O’Hara for “‘S Wonderful” goes on too long.
Broderick’s dancing is fine, but not more than that.
But never mind. Nice Work If You Can Get It left the audience humming.

I was sorry I’d actually made it to the street while the orchestra was playing.

I’m looking forward to a cast recording. Broadway shows are expensive, but this one is worth the money you’ve earned from that other kind of employment.

Theatre Review: Lift off with Man and Superman at Irish Rep

Max Gordon Moore, Janie Brookshire(James Higgins)
How It’s New York: This was a co-production Gingold Theatrical Group, which runs the highly successful Project Shaw monthly staged readings, and the Irish Repeertory Theatre, widely considered to be one of the best companies in New York City. David Staller, who leads Project Shaw/Gingold Theatrical Group, directs. This is the first outing in “Shaw New York,” a festival of Shaw events around the city. The production runs through June 17.
How It’s Irish: George Bernard Shaw was Irish, although for years he was claimed as an English writer because he first found success there (like most Irish playwrights had through the 19th century) and continued to live there. But you know, you can take the man out of Ireland…. Although Shaw rarely wrote plays directly about the Irish, he constantly makes digs at the English, and Man and Superman is no exception. There’s even an Irish character (with some choice things to say about the English). There’s a Jewish character, too, making this Jirish.
A version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA.
When I was an intern at Berkeley Rep, there was a glorious, glorious production of this show, directed by Irene Lewis. Their version, like this one below, included the often-cut dream sequence “Don Juan in Hell,” and was nearly four hours long, which flew by in a breeze. I saw it twice.
I came into this both loving the play and knowing it had strong competition in my memory. Staller ably does it justice. His version, though shorter, interestingly makes use of the maxims in the “Revolutionist’s Handbook,” written by the play’s irritatingly loquacious, completely irresistible Jack Tanner, here played by Max Gordon Moore (who is a terrific find. Bet we’ll be seeing lots more of him).
“…the philosophy is endurable because Shaw can’t help deflating it.”

Living A Super Life At The Irish Rep

Max Gordon Moore, Jonathan Hammond, and Janie Brookshire  (@James Higgins)

One of Shaw’s most Shavian plays is running in a crackling co-production with the Irish Repertory Theatre and Gingold Theatrical Group, the company that produces the monthly reading series “Project Shaw” through June 17.

David Staller, who runs Gingold Theatrical Group, helms “Man and Superman,” and demonstrates not only his deep love and understanding of the great Irish playwright, but also his strong theatrical sense.
Written in 1903 (though not produced until 1905), “Man and Superman” is long – four acts, including the “Don Juan in Hell” dream sequence, which often is produced as a stand-alone, and cut from productions of the play. That act was first produced with the play in 1915. (You can read the whole play at Project Gutenberg).

Staller has cut the play down to just about two and a half hours (allow for three, with an intermission), without losing any of the play’s beats. That alone would be remarkable, but his accomplishments do not end end there. He’s put together a remarkable cast. As the first outing in what is to be “Shaw New York,” a festival of Shaw events around the city, the excellent “Man and Superman” suggests that this series will be a worthy addition to the city’s cultural offerings.

If you’ve only read the play or seen flat amateur productions, you really need to go and see this one at Irish Rep. 

While a great play, it’s not so perfect that it can’t be done badly – and it often is. In the play Shaw creates a vehicle for his philosophy, and handled badly, the play can be sluggish. The title is taken from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (the Nazis loved him too), and Jack Tanner (Max Gordon Moore) declaims about this Superman, specifically, about the “Life Force” and the nature of man. But actually, Tanner, a self-styled revolutionary, though a gentleman with an independent income, shows more interest in the way the life force drives woman to seek a mate. And therein is the play’s fun.

It would be extremely tedious to listen to characters, however clever and attractive, talk about the Purpose of Man for three or four hours. But watching the characters chase each other romantically, while the one who claims to most immune is clearly the, as his chauffeur calls him, “marked-out victim,” is hugely entertaining.

At times the delivery of dialogue could stand a bit more variation in volume and intensity but overall this “Man and Superman” zips brightly along.

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), a theatre and music critic as well as a writer, is just too much of an entertainer to let the philosophy get in the way of a good yarn.

He also can’t resist a few jabs at the English middle class, spoken by an Irishman.

Brian Murray, Max Gordon Moore (@James Higgins)

The story begins after the death of Mr. Whitefield, and the discovery that Whitefield has entrusted both his old friend Ramsden (Brian Murray) and free-thinking Jack to be the guardian of his daughter Ann (Janie Brookshire). Jack is the author of “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” a volume included with published versions of the play. Lines from it are recited by characters (a conceit of Staller’s) at the top of each scene change. Like the aphorisms of Oscar Wilde, Shaw’s observations are funny and deep at the same time:

 “Lack of money is the root of all evil.” 

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

That last also appears in the play. Tanner tells Octavius Robinson (Will Bradley), who loves the mischievous Ann,

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food. I think Ann loves you that way: she patted your cheek as if it were a nicely underdone chop.” 

Tavy’s sister Violet (Margaret Loesser Robinson) has made a secret marriage, refusing to reveal the name of her husband. When Jack discovers that Ann, once a childhood playmate who demanded he tell her everything, is really after him, not Tavy, Jack flees with his chauffeur Straker (Brian Sgambati) to Spain.

Motorcars were new at this time, and the play gives us not one but two, when another party carrying Ann, her mother Mrs. Whitfield (Laurie Kennedy), Violet and the American millionaire Hector (Zachary Spicer) follows in close pursuit.

Will Bradley, Jonathan Hammond, Max Gordon Moore, Brian Murray, Paul O’Brien, Margaret Loesser Robinson, Janie Brookshire (@James Higgins)

In Spain, Jack and Straker are kidnapped by brigands led by the lovelorn, Jewish Mendoza (Jonathan Hammond). In the mountains, before he and Straker are rescued, Jack dreams of being Don Juan in Hell. Like “The Wizard of Oz,” all the dream characters are played by people in Jack’s “real” life: Ann is now Dona Anna, from Mozart’s opera (Straker had whistled tunes from it earlier), the woman whom Don Juan loved and whose father he killed in a duel. The devil is played by the brigand. And so on. The message of the witty but strange dream sequence is that Hell is much more pleasant than Heaven, because in Heaven “you see things as they are.”
Right at the end, Dona Ana realizes that her purpose is to find “a father for the Superman.”

This revelation sets up Act Four, in which Ann goes in for the kill, and we also meet the Irishman Malone (Paul O’Brien). 

Shaw’s superman philosophy is less revelatory than, really, a lot of words.

Margaret Loesser Robinson, Janie Brookshiere, and Laurie Kennedy (James Higgins)

In a post-Holocaust world, the idea of the “superman” has been tainted, and the notion that a woman’s deep purpose is to reproduce feels not just antiquated but unknowingly misogynistic (believe it or not, G.B.S., some women feel their purpose is, like yours, art, politics, etc). But the philosophy is endurable because Shaw can’t help deflating it.

After Jack complains about the marriage market to Ann, finishing with a Declaration of Independence that

“The man who pleads his father’s authority is no man; the woman who pleads her mother’s authority is unfit to bear citizens to a free people,” 

Ann replies calmly,

“I suppose you will go in seriously for politics some day, Jack ….You talk so well.”

Even the Statue in Hell (played by Ramsden, in Jack’s dream) says “your flow of words is simply amazing, Juan.” 

Others see right through him, and so do we.
He knows a lot, but then again, he’s just so dumb.

His love for Ann is plain to everyone but him, and the romantic Tavy, who idolizes Ann and alone among everyone onstage, cannot see through her lies and manipulations.
Ann wisely says of him, to Jack,

“men like that always live in comfortable bachelor lodgins with broken hearts, and are adored by their landladies, and never get married. Men like you always get married.”

Brookshire’s Ann is winsome, selfish and irresistible. As Jack, Max Gordon Moore is almost bizarrely articulate, with boyish good looks that lend him an air of vulnerability.

Janie Brookshire, Max Gordon Moore (@James Higgins)

Robinson plays Violet less as “hard as nails,” as she’s described, than sweetly practical.
It’s an interesting approach, but it does not quite work. Bradley’s handsome Octavius gallantly falls for every romantic puffery he sees. If you liked Antonio Banderas in “Puss in Boots,” you’ll fall for Hammond as Mendoza/the Devil. The older characters particularly shone in modulation and subtlety.
Kennedy’s Mrs. Whitefield flutters; she has insight but no authority over her willful child.

Paul O’Brien, as Malone, blusters some terrific lines.
Determined at first that his son Hector should marry only a titled person or a peasant, like his mother, a “barefooted Irish girl,” he’s quickly won over by (spoiler alert) Violet’s managerial control.
When Violet refers to “the famine,” he replies furiously,

“the starvation. When a country is full of food, and exporting it, there can be no famine.”

His revenge on the English is to buy it out from under them.
But Violet gets around him entirely. Hector, she says, is “romantic and faddy – he gets it from you, I fancy – and he wants a certain sort of wife to take care of him.”
And it isn’t long before Malone is saying, in a strong accent, “that’ll be a grand woman for Hector.”

It’s the Irish love of a dominant mother figure, really, but it’s also very funny.

G.B.S. in 1909

Shaw sneaks some other complaints about the English into the mouths of other characters: Tanner complains about the

 “pious English habit of regarding the world as a moral gymnasium built expressly to strengthen your character in;” 

the Statue observes that some people sit in Heaven

 “not because they are happy, but because they think they owe it to their position to be in heaven. They are almost all English.” 

James Noone’s white and gold set design sets the characters in strong relief, and Theresa Squire’s costumes, along with Robert-Charles Valiance’s hair and wig design, are a treat for the eyes.

 
Staller’s final tableau has the characters posing for a photograph.
It’s a photo to be cherished, a memory to savor, like the production itself. 

Man and Superman, presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre and Gingold Theatrical Group, runs at Irish Repertory Theatre through June 17. Performances Wed., 3 and 8 p.m.; Thurs., 7 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 and 8 p.m., and Sun at 3. Tickets at (212) 727-2737 or www.irishrep.org. Irish Repertory Theatre is at 132 W. 22nd Street, bet. 5th and 7th Avenues.

Kevin Holohan Remembers Reading Russell Hoban, 1925-2011

@Graham Jepson

How It’s New York:  This memorial was written by Kevin Holohan, an Irish writer based in New York.  Books Editor Michelle Woods reviewed his The Brothers’ Lot and loved it.  Also, Hoban was Jewish– so this is Jirish, which is so New York (even though Hoban lived in London).
How It’s Irish:  This remembrance of Russell Hoban was originally published in Writing.Ie.  And Holohan first came across Hoban’s books in Dublin.

I grew up on the Frances books, but never looked for any other works of the author.   Thanks to Kevin for bringing this to our attention!  Hoban’s children’s books, says Kevin:

…celebrate the wholeness of childhood just as Mr. Hoban’s books for adults also capture a magical oddness that always percolates just under the surface of perceived reality, something he called the “unwordable.’

While I lived in Spain I adopted the flag of convenience when it came to superstition about the 13th day of the month. If it fell on a Friday, I would adopt the Spanish custom of fearing Tuesday the 13th and if a Tuesday the 13th came along I could take refuge in the Anglophone superstition of Fridays. This past December 13th was a Tuesday and one that was indisputably ill-starred as it saw the passing of one of the most imaginative writers I have ever read.
Russell Hoban, who died in London on Tuesday December 13, 2011 at the age of eighty-six, was variously described as a “cult writer,” a “maverick writer,” a “science-fiction writer” but those phrases do not come close to doing justice to the strange breadth of his craft. Along his way he served in the US Army in World War II, worked as an illustrator, wrote advertising copy and was, strikingly, a successful writer of books for both children and adults that are sui generis.
His best known children’s books concern the eponymous Frances, a young badger who

behaves refreshingly like a real kid. She employs every possible delaying tactic when going to bed, gets jealous and nasty when her little sister has a birthday and exasperates her parents by restricting her diet to nothing but bread and jam. These are not didactic books that try to teach some received idea of model or moral behaviour. Instead they celebrate the wholeness of childhood just as Mr. Hoban’s books for adults also capture a magical oddness that always percolates just under the surface of perceived reality, something he called the “unwordable.” Even in the guise of more conventional Science Fiction like Fremder, his writing stretches the limits of genre.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1925, to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Russell Hoban eventually settled for good in London in 1969. If there is an urban palette for his work it is London – sometimes in real identifiable physical details and sometimes just the feel of it, beautifully and evocatively insinuated in the background or in the corners. However, his most well known work takes place in a broken blasted world of harrowing imagination where an especially gloomy Hieronymus Bosch got to do the landscaping.

Riddley Walker (1980) is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain catapulted back to primitivism by a nuclear catastrophe. Two thousand years after the disaster, society has just about dragged itself up to a loose collection of New Iron Age hunter-gatherer-scavenger communities held together by the political muscle of hardman types and the cultural glue of the official Punch and Judy show that visits each settlement. Punch and Judy shows are the agents of the powerful Ardship of Cambry and the keepers and purveyors of official history. They perform the quasi religious retelling of how the nuclear apocalypse came about: The Eusa Story. The book tells itself in a twisted and broken down English that is stunningly well thought out: the whole mess was brought about by “Eusa” splitting “Addom” and now things are run by the “Mincery” and the “Ardship of Cambry” – USA splitting the atom; Ministry; Archbishop of Canterbury. Anthony Burgess said of this work that is was “what literature was meant to be” and the critic Hugh Kenner reviewed it thus:

“Russell Hoban has put many things right, just right, in a book where at first sight all the words are wrong, and at second sight not a sentence is to be missed.” 

The broken language is not at all daunting and much demystification can be done by reading it in the voice of your favourite Eastenders character until you get the hang of hearing it in your head. It is well worth the effort. But it was not how I first came across Mr. Hoban’s work.
Introducing me to Russell Hoban is the best thing that Brand Loyalty, Happenstance and the Brick n Mortar Bookshop have ever conspired to do for me. It was 1983 or thereabouts. I was in Eason’s in O’Connell Street, Dublin. I had in my hand whatever it was I went in there to get. On my way to the cash register a book caught my eye. It was published by Picador. I knew Picador. They did the tattered Best of Myles that I had discovered one rainy day in my grandmother’s house. They did The Third Policeman. They knew what they were at. The book had an odd name and a strikingly stylised cover depicting an underground train and some sheets of yellow paper on the platform. I opened it and read the first few pages:

I exist, said the mirror.

What about me? asked Kleinzeit.

Not my problem, said the mirror.

The book was Kleinzeit. I was hooked. The book created a world unto itself of
playful inventiveness that lured me into an odd liminal place where sheets of yellow paper could dictate what should be written on them and the hero gets hospitalised for tests on his hypotenuse and diapason and Hospital, it seems, has been waiting for him. Any story in which a character who is reading Thucydides is followed down the street by Hoplites who may or may not be real was just the kind of jolt I needed to revive an interest in books and reading that had just about survived the arid rigours of the Leaving Certificate.
Since that first encounter with Mr. Hoban I have revelled in everything he has written: from the pyrotechnic genius of Riddley Walker to the fascinating essays of The Moment Under the Moment and, through my own child, the Frances books and the magnificently odd short story The Marzipan Pig. Even works that do not entirely captivate me contain moments of such arresting crystalline creativity that they are worth going along for the journey.
As the author aged he did not shy away from the modern world but embraced it with the drive to understand, fascinated by looking inside the watch of existence to see where in its delicate workings the magic might reside. In Angelica’s Grotto: A Novel(1999), Klein, a 72-year-old art historian, has lost that inner voice that stops us from saying inappropriate things. He becomes involved with the owners of the pornographic website that provides the book’s title and seems to have been set up just for him.
In Linger Awhile (2007), the aging Irving Goodman falls in love with a
long-dead starlet from old cowboy movies and enlists the help of an esoteric friend to resurrect her from a video tape. They succeed in bringing her back but she exists only in black and white and it just gets stranger from there. These are not the works of someone phoning it in for the latter part of his career.
Forever trying things out, taking risks, Russell Hoban seemed to write because he could not and would not stop. Writing was his flywheel and it kept him sharp, inventive and adventurous to the end; an enthusiastic and joyful embodiment of Mr. Beckett’s, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” The act of creation was what was important. In this way he was a writer’s writer- playful but also fearless and adventurous.
Everywhere in his writing there is humour, humanity and a strange otherness conjured by the careful selection of the cleanest, most apposite words for what hovers on the edge of being indescribable and ungraspable. For a reader his work is the rare gift of getting to see our world through a lens that makes you re-see it stripped of the patina of workaday disenchantment and rereading it is like seeking the comfort of a dear old friend. For a writer his work can be a mixed blessing: so good it seduces and contaminates; so vibrant and inventive it almost moves you to despair but then so adventurous and assured it inspires you to go out on a limb, make a mess, step off the edge without a plan and work it out on the page.
Though I never met him, Russell Hoban was the best kind of teacher. Obviously he never instructed me in how to write but he certainly made me want to do it better. His talent is a large part of why I ever started to write and why my copy of Kleinzeit, the comforting companion through so many ‘flus over the years, is falling apart. It is because of that thrilling surprise hrumpty-murff years ago that I still insist on visiting real Brick n Mortar Bookshops to see what Happenstance might push off the shelves at me. For that and for all the brilliant “unwordable” moments, thank you, Mr. Hoban. Safe travels.
  author Russell Hoban answers a question about rhymes in Riddley Walker during audience q&a following interview with John Mullan, London 22 November 2010

Find out more about Kevin Holohan in The Scribbler’s Apprentice, or check out his blog http://thebrotherslot.wordpress.com/
KEVIN HOLOHAN was born in Dublin. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and a veteran of secondary school education at the hands of the Christian Brothers. His short stories have been published in Cyphers, the Sunday Tribune, and, most recently, in Whispers and Shouts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and son and he reviews fiction for the Irish Echo (New York). The Brothers’ Lot is his first novel.
Combining the spirit of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim with a bawdy evisceration of hypocrisy in old-school Catholic education, The Brothers’ Lot is a comic satire that tells the story of the Brothers of
Godly Coercion School for Young Boys of Meagre Means, a dilapidated Dickensian institution run by an assemblage of eccentric, insane, and often nasty celibate Brothers. 
Michelle Woods on The Brothers’ Lot:  The beauty of Holohan’s prose, with its Gothic, Castle of Otranto-ish narrative, sucks you in and makes you laugh out loud.

A New York Comedy/Variety Show: Sundays at Seven!

How It’s New York: Sundays at Seven features New York-based comedians and musicians.
How It’s Irish: The show is held at the venerable Irish Arts Center, one of the leading non-profit organizations in New York for over 30 years, and is co-produced by Irish actress Fiona Walsh.

The next Sundays at Seven are March 11, April 15, May 13, June 10 — at 7, of course.  At the Irish Arts Center, 553 W. 51st Street.
  
John Kearns listens in on women “wasting the thin time,” sunny and rainy songs from Lindsay Wilson, and Rena Zager, who told this incontrovertible truth:  New York is the only place where it is socially acceptable to be an old weirdo.  There were Irish jokes from Fiona Walsh, whose mother clips bad news from Irish newspapers and mails them to her, and Jewish jokes from Brad Zimmerman.  What could be more New York?

Sundays at Seven is a comedy showcase that has been held at the Irish Arts Center on the second Sunday of every month for more than ten years. I ventured out for the February 12th edition of the series as the snow was swirling and the temperatures were dropping. And, I found the show well worth the trip. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of comedy and music with high-quality material and performances throughout.

Fiona Walsh began the proceedings by welcoming everyone and introducing her co-producer, Ann Design.


Ann complained that women are never happy with the way they look. She saw a picture of herself from a year ago, when she looked thinner. She remembered not appreciating how good she looked at the time and feared that she “wasted the thin time” that she had had.

She described an encounter with a nude woman in a gym locker room who carried on a conversation with Ann but never covered herself. Ann decided that what this woman needed was “a robe – and some shame and self-loathing.”

Singer-songwriter Lindsay Wilson took to the stage next. She explained that in her sets she likes to include a little sunshine, a little rain, and a little truth. Her sunny song was a tune with a lovely melody about a lover and a friend. Her rainy song, “Should’ve Ran,” was inspired by her former roommate’s relationship with a man she perhaps should not have gotten involved with. Her truth song, “Boulevard” talked about a walk she and her friend had taken around her neighborhood, an older woman who “looked like a smile waiting to happen,” and all of the stores and restaurants of their memories, which were now closed.

After this beautiful and touching musical performance, the rest of the show was dedicated to comedy.


Rena Zager opened with a funny bit about a one-woman show she had put on about her life. The play was loved by everyone except her mother who put on a rebuttal show entitled, She Doesn’t Know What She’s Talking About. She predicted that mother and daughter would continue to mount shows at each another.

Rena complained that though she is sick of New York City, she is doomed to stay here, since she is not married and has no kids. New York, she said, “is the only place where it is socially acceptable to be an old weirdo.” She is even accentuating her weirdness by getting her first cat, which she fears is a “gateway cat.”


Tim Homayoon talked about how he was shy as a kid and got yelled at for it. There were no support groups for shy kids, he pointed out. He is jealous that gay people have a parade but shy people do not. The shy people could shout, “We’re shy! We’re proud! Oh, no, we’re being looked at!”

Tim concluded with some amusing tales of his work adventures – getting fired for being a racist Big Bird, a bad Easter Bunny, and a nursing home stripper who made ethnic jokes.

Fiona Walsh talked about meeting a cheery Irish-American woman who told her she is Irish, too. Fiona found this to be impossible because the girl had obviously not been brought up to eat potatoes with every meal and had not seen at least two apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Besides, the girl just seemed too happy in Fiona’s opinion. She considers Irish people to be typically miserable. As an example, she told about how her mother clips out all of the bad news from the Irish newspapers and mails them across the Atlantic to her daughter without any note or personal message whatsoever. Her mother also sends her text messages that combine death notices with weather reports.

Patty Rosborough did a routine about pubic hair and the various styles people prefer. She is considering getting highlights down there so that she can be “like J. Lo down low.”

She finds sex gets better after 50. The only problem she has is finding a partner. “Thank God for the homeless!” she said. “Give them a hot meal and they have no problem putting out.”
Perhaps the highlight of Patty’s act was a hilarious routine about a woman’s voice from a GPS system giving sex directions instead of driving directions. “Proceed 18 inches south … Wrong entry point … Recalculating … ”

Headliner Brad Zimmerman described his upcoming show My Son, the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy. He said that during his years working as a waiter to support his acting career, he never wanted to work at a fine dining establishment. He only knew “two things about wine: one, we have it and, two, we don’t have it.” When customers asked him the difference between the Cabernet and the Cotes du Rhone, he answered, “A dollar.”
His mother often points out how successful his old friends are and he wondered what his mother must say to her friends about him. “If all goes well …, I think Brad is going to be able to buy … a bookcase.”

He also told a series of jokes including a “Jewish fairy tale.” A Jewish man asks a Jewish woman to marry him. She says, “No.” And he lived happily every after.

Sundays at Seven was a great night of raucous comedy and lovely music. It was definitely worth heading out on a cold Sunday night and I look forward to checking out future shows! 

A Jew, a Cardinal and an Irishman Walk Into a Room: Imagining Heschel Review

Mickey Ryan and Chet Carlin

How It’s New York:  The subject of the play Imagining Heschel is Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian who taught in NY, at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS).  Much of the play takes place in NY.
How It’s Irish:  Originally a two-hander, the play now includes an Irish character, Father Brian Martin, who objects to the loss of Latin and other reforms pending in the Second Vatican Council.
The Second Vatican Council  declared that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by G-d” and that the passion cannot be charged against all the Jews then or later.

 A version of this review first appeared in The Arty Semite, the culture blog of the Jewish Daily Forward.


A dull play about a fascinating subject, and a controversial time.

February 7, 2012, 1:00pm

Less Than Actual Abraham Joshua Heschel

By Gwen Orel

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a fascinating individual. Too bad Colin Greer’s play, Imagining Heschel, is such a yawn.

Heschel was born in Poland, and got out before the Holocaust; he was a poet, teacher and author of influential works including the 1955 classic, “God in Search of Man.” He believed that Jews should fight for justice, and he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.

You learn some of this in Colin Greer’s play, which focuses on Heschel’s decision to participate in the Second Vatican Council. I can’t recommend Imagining Heschel, yet I’m glad to have seen it. Those with a strong interest in the man may want to make the excursion to the Stella Adler Studio of Acting on West 27th Street as well.


This is the second outing for Greer’s play. An earlier incarnation starring Richard Dreyfus and Rinde Eckert at the Culture Project in 2010 never officially opened, although it played its entire scheduled run — critics who had attended could not publish their reviews; others were uninvited. At that time, the play was a two-hander between Heschel (Mickey Ryan) and Cardinal Augustin Bea (Chet Carlin), who coaxed Heschel to come to Rome and be the voice of American Jews on the Council. Now there is a third character, the Irish Father Brian Martin. Father Brian (Guy Mandic) objects to the reformation of the Mass and to the State of Israel, and his few scenes, weirdly, are the liveliest. They don’t go anywhere, but at least there’s something going on in them, and some real conflict.

Mickey Ryan and Guy Mandic

Most of the play involves Bea, played by a lovable Chet Carlin, coaxing Heschel, played by Mickey Ryan with subdued intensity, to come to Rome. Heschel complains about the Vatican’s indifference during the Holocaust, and insists the church stop trying to convert Jews. Bea says accommodating things, but Heschel takes offense at something. Then they smooth things over. Rinse and repeat.

We watch the characters bond or spar at Heschel’s favorite tree in Riverside, at his home over tea, at a Jewish restaurant in Rome. We learn that Bea had Jewish friends, that he admired the way Jews were openly emotional. A scene of Heschel lecturing establishes his sense of universalism, as does his eulogy for Martin Luther King, Jr., which happens out of sequence — the play flashes around in time without letting the audience know.

The acting from the three cast members is excellent, as one might expect from the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company and the Stella Adler Studio. But what drew the most emotion from me were two sequences of slides. The first was images of the Holocaust set to a Yiddish song, while the second was a series of black and white stills of Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr., Kent State and other ‘60s shots set to the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today.” It worked, but it was cheap, unearned emotion.

Director Tom Oppenheim does what he can, but while the characters are interesting, the play isn’t. Greer conveys his interest in Heschel (although his final line about Jews needing the antagonism of Christians seems wildly out of character, as does his choice to say Kaddish without a minyan — they seem to contradict everything else we have just learned about Heschel), but never succeeds in dramatizing him.

He remains only imagined.

Imagining Heschel runs through Feb. 11, at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, 31 W. 27th St. 3rd Floor, Mon-Sat 7:30, Sun. 2:30.  For tickets, please visit www.SmartTix.com