Jewish Theater

A neoclassical stage? Or a theater off-kilter?

Will Paula Vogel’s "Indecent" do justice to Sholem Asch’s "God of Vengeance"?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an artistic failure.

What?

Yeah. This is what T.S. Eliot says in his infamous essay “Hamlet and His Problems,” claiming that Coriolanus is instead Shakespeare’s most artistically solid piece of theater.

This perhaps says more about T.S. Eliot’s neoclassical leanings, his love of Roman “revenge tragedies,” than it does about the actual esthetics of theater.

Hamlet: a too, too solid self-obsession? Edwin Booth in the title role, ca. 1870. Photo: J. Gurney & Son, N.Y. /Wikimedia Commons

But maybe we should give his theory a test-drive first, before dismissing it outright.

Maybe it is actually a mirror we’d prefer to not look too deeply into . . .

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Berlin Diary: chasing ghosts

Andrea Stolowitz's play about family history and the continuing shadow of the Holocaust is funny, smart, and haunting

Berlin Diary, Andrea Stolowitz’s engrossing and surprisingly funny theatrical detective story that opened Saturday at CoHo Theatre, is a play about memory and loss and the force of history, and about the limitations and possibilities of the theater itself. A deep delve into the Portland playwright’s family history and its intersection with traumatic events in public life, it’s prompted by the discovery in the U.S. National Holocaust Museum archives of a diary her Jewish great-grandfather, Dr. Max Cohnreich, kept in 1939, three years after he had escaped with his immediate family to New York as part of the larger family’s own mini-diaspora, leaving Berlin for Argentina, America, and elsewhere while the getting was still good.

After ignoring this evidence of a possibly altered reality for several years, Stolowitz decided to follow it into its murky past. She spent eight months in Berlin, running down clues hinted at in the diary, trying to understand what happened to her extended family, which lore insisted had been fortunate – everyone got out alive – and trying to discover, in the process, why her family seemed so distant and disassociated from one another, not at all the close happy bosom of a family that Stolowitz wished so fervently it were.

Erin Leddy and Damon Kupper, history detectives. Photo: Owen Carey

What she discovered through many often frustrating interviews and a mass of new information lodged free from city archives shook Stolowitz’s sense of what she thought she knew. It also shook her sense of what others might want to know. “I suppose what’s gone is gone,” an aunt sighs at one point, and yet Stolowitz’s growing conviction is that that’s not true: what’s past is crucial to the present and future; time moves and shapes itself in successive and coexisting tidal waves. Forgetting or denying is an evasion, a burial of the communal self, that broods and bruises.

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“A lot of theaters do this show looking very French 1950s, with lots of pink and gold,” remarked Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer at Sunday’s talkback post-Parfumerie.

And why wouldn’t they? The title suggests Frenchness, elegance, and putting on airs (wink), and the various rebrands the play has inspired—You’ve Got Mail, She Loves Me, The Shop around the Corner—are certainly warm and schmaltzy enough to countenance a general pink-and-gold glow.

But B&B’s version, taking a textual cue from Miklos Laszlo’s original play set in 1930s Budapest, plays it a little cooler and deeper, not just with an austere and neutral set, but with characters taking a few beats between quips for silent contemplation. Considering that comparatively few of the script’s lines are devoted to perfume or toiletries, and many more are directed at the complexities of business and personal relationships and a frank assessment of life goals, I submit to future producers yet another fresh title for the same fare, complete with a retail pun: “Taking Stock.”

A humming retail environment holds contains this charming split narrative that's less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

A humming retail environment contains this charming comedy that’s less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

“Wake up! Your life has passed you by!”

“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?…There’s always just a shadow of a doubt.”

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