AGENTN

New Yiddish Rep and Der LufTeaterof Strasbourg France presented New York’s only Yiddish theatrical presentation of the 2011 fall season, a new play adapted from Sholom Aleichem’s one act Agentn, which takes place on a train, and his Ayzenbahn Geshichtes, stories centered around train travel. The piece was workshopped in New York last October, and presented in a series of staged readings in November. Adapted by Rafael Goldwaser, the plays final form was shaped by the collaboration of the ensemble and the rehearsal process itself.
‘Agentn’ of Yesterday and Today
By Boris Sandler
Editor of The Yiddish ForwardTo perform Yiddish theater today, you need a lot of money, or a lot of ambition. The New Yiddish Rep theater company, led by David Mandelbaum, has the latter.Mandelbaum is an actor and director who also plays most of the other roles a theater company requires. Like any typical theater person, he is always on the lookout for creative talent, and when he searches, he usually finds. For “Agentn,” the New Yiddish Rep’s latest production, Mandelbaum found five talented collaborators: director Moshe Yassur, clarinetist Dmitri Slepovitch and actors Yelena Shmulenson, Rafael Goldwaser and Shane Baker.The play is based on the works of Sholem Aleichem, which makes for good theater, even though Sholem Aleichem himself was not a particularly impressive dramatist. The different parts of the play, which draw on several of Sholem Aleichem’s stories, are unified by a small-town fortune-seeker who travels by train through different stations, trying to find “clients” and make a ruble.Goldwaser contributes several monologues he has already performed in his own productions, which are brought within the larger narrative of the play. This unifying task fell to Yassur, whose challenge was to make the piece more than just a series of readings, even though the actors have their scripts onstage. Yasur managed this by means of the mise-en-scène, props, jokes, contact with the audience and, most of all, music.Music, however, is perhaps the wrong word for it. Rather, Yassur uses a technique in which the clarinet, played by Slepovitch, participates as its own character in the drama. It inserts itself into the dialogue, sometimes in discontent, sometimes in pity, sometimes in reproach. It is even possible that the clarinet serves as a sort of internal voice, saying that not everything a person says is always what he’s thinking.

Still, putting Sholem Aleichem on stage is no simple matter. There is especially the danger of falling into tastelessness and theater clichés. Fortunately, with “Agentn,” that doesn’t happen.

In earlier years you used to meet people who were attached heart and soul to Yiddish culture. They would do anything in order to help talented writers, musicians, directors, theater troupes, and other creative people realize their projects. The question remains, has this type of bold person disappeared from the Yiddish horizon?

— Translated by Ezra Glinter

Rhinoceros (Nozhorn)

Oh! A Nozhorn!

‘The other day Trump used the phrase “my followers.”
That says it all. Every theater in the country that cares about freedom, human rights, and our way of life ought to produce this play. Hitler came to power in 1933 with only 36% of the vote. By 1939 he brought on a World War. Lets hope we don’t start seeing rhinoceroses in the streets. The folks in Charlottesville already have.

Yosl Rakover Speaks To God

For twenty years the story of Yosl Rakover was believed to be an eyewitness account of the ghetto’s last hours, and the true story of a pious Jew whose fate it was to die fighting the beasts that destroyed his world. In the hours before his death he reconsiders his relationship with G-d and concludes that although his relationship with G-d has changed, his faith in Him remains, and his love for Him burns as strongly as ever. The story was actually written in 1946, by Tzvi Kolitz, a young Palestinian who as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress traveled extensively to speak on behalf of the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. His clandestine purpose was to recruit fighters for the Irgun, of which he was a member. While in Argentina, he was asked to write an article for a Yiddish paper in Buenas Aires for their special Yom kippur edition. The result was Yosl Rakover Speaks to G-d. Through a set of bizzare circumstances the story was republished in an Israeli Yiddish journal without his name on it, and was assumed to be real. It has since been recognized as one of the classics of Holocaust literature, been translated into many languages, and been the subject of essays by theologians and philosophers. Adapted for the stage and performed by David Mandelbaum, directed by Amy Coleman, it makes for powerful and compelling theater. In Yiddish with English Supertitles.