Presented by Meta-Phys Ed, THE TALMUD is a genre-bending performance based on the Talmud and Kung-Fu films about the transmission of ancient traditions and sacred wisdom across generations; from teacher to student and master to disciple
The experimental theatre production of THE TALMUD takes a deep dive into the layers of talmudic text and its symbolic interplay of dance, fight, and aerobatics common to Kung Fu archetypes. Jesse Freedman's directing masters the balance of these seeming incomparable genres into a smooth aerobatic dance with a wide range of movements, mediums, and words.
Multiple veil-like drapes capture projections while passing them through to the drapes behind them, creating a secondary and sometimes tertiary display of a single image or text. Moreover, these images are often times livestreams from cameras adhered to cast members in the story gesturing to the inward circular and repetitive behavior of Rabbinic reasoning and suggesting a scale of fathomability. In contrast, the presence and self-aware nature of Kung Fu movements and transitions gestures towards a contrast of present applicability. Together, the two mediums offer a narrative of juxtaposing themes – perhaps suggesting contradictions within the behaviors of the Talmudic scripture.
The cast, played by Hui-Shan Yong, Lucie Allouche, Sean Devare, and Zixin Liu (plus Lu Liu on the Pipa) offer a vibrant ensemble of argument and conflict, balanced within the scope of camaraderie. Their acting suggests that perhaps the arguments entailed in the Talmud are just sport – much like a fight club practicing King Fu. However, these conflicts can turn deadly, forcing individuals to take sides and enact violence.
As a whole, the interplay of various narrative mediums within THE TALMUD takes you into a deep headspace, very much like a drug – a theme in Meta Phys-Ed's previous show WAKE...SING...(2018). Though the show has already closed, I would recommend you see it if you want to see something explorative, bizarre, contradictory yet harmonious, and multi-medium.
Set mishaps, script blunders, mispronunciations, and actors being knocked unconscious are only some of the bungles in The Play that Goes Wrong. The comical farce is two hours of slapstick and silly humor centering around a play which is running far from smoothly. Currently playing on Broadway, you can see it for as low as $30, though I highly recommend the front row balcony tickets for $49 ($57 after fees). Tickets here.
Upon entry to the theatre, audiences are greeted by a sneering mustached man with a crooked bowtie who is in fact the lead actor and “director” of the play within the play (portrayed by Mark Evans). Similarly, a stage manager (played by Akron Watson) is fixing, or rather, slamming a door that won’t stay shut. Eventually the door’s unreliability and further slamming causes mayhem during the show, disrupting the plot and causing further mayhem.
As the lights dim, audiences are introduced to the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and their play A Murder at Haversham Manor – the play within The Play that Goes Wrong. At the rise of the curtain, calamity immediately strikes: actors are scrambling to their positions, props are broken, the dysfunctional set (including the aforementioned broken door) causes injury. One such mishap is when the whiskey on set is replaced with a bottle of paint thinner. Characters take a sip of the whiskey and remark “that’s delicious” - even while they are choking and spitting it out. Similarly, everything that could go wrong does – providing high energy farce and slapstick comedy. This may be terribly fun or simply terrible, depending on your preference
At the core of the gaudy play is a story offering a positive and humorous perspective on calamity and chaos. The characters in The Play that Goes Wrong view their work as direly serious, judging their performance with solemnity. Their delusion of success and consequential despair when their show falls apart is comical and ludicrous. Such an instance offers humor as an alternative perspective for despair – that we can laugh at our mistakes and use them to grow.
From a production perspective, The Play that Goes Wronggoes right in several ways. Namely, its humor is self-devised, meaning the play is funny without prior context. Viewers are not expected to know any canonized works or be familiar with any style of theatre to find the play funny. Furthermore, the depth of design that a period work requires (the play within the play is set in the 1930’s) makes the piece all the more mesmerizing. Such qualities make The Play that Goes Wrong appealing for those who do not typically see Broadway shows.
The show’s business model is centered around being charming for audiences that typically do not see Broadway shows, with low ticket prices (which start at $30) and a very low weekly running cost of $300K (which is 1/3 – 1/5 of typical). The show’s venue, the Lyceum Theater, seats 922, comparably small for Broadway considering the Gershwin Theater, where Wicked plays, which seats 1923. Such a choice in a venue allows for lower running cost of the show. Casting is also done with this accessibility in mind, as no stars are in the cast. As a whole, the production seems designed for non-typical theater goers.
Overall, if you enjoy gaudy low-brow humor, you’ll enjoy The Play that Goes Wrong. If you enjoy more cerebral work or are easily aggravated from shouting or slamming doors, you will most likely not enjoy this play. And if you are curious to see what a high quality low-budget Broadway show looks like, purchase $30 tickets and be amazed.
Religion, family, and acceptance face off in Larry Rinkel’s A KREUTZER SONATA. The play depicts the difficulties of an observant Jewish young musician and that which challenges his religious rigidity. Currently showing at The Unfringed Festival at The Secret Theater, tickets are available for $18 HERE.
The play follows a skilled pianist, David, an orthodox Jew, and his equally skilled duet partner Elena, a staunch atheist. Their religious and cultural differences stand as obstacles to their duet performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for their university’s showcase. Additional conflicts arise from David’s Protestant roommate, David’s parents’ disintegrating marriage, and his father’s loss of faith. The story summarizes the experience of holding onto religion throughout difficult circumstances.
A KREUTZER SONATA portrays what happens when a resilient person faces unyieldingly difficult situations – that at some point they’ll need to choose to bend or break. As the play’s protagonist pursues his education in music school, his unanswered question about religious and family life result in snowballing of conflicts that amalgamate into a cacophony. Only once David acknowledges and reflects upon his rigidity do his issues begin to resolve.
The conflicts in this story – rigidity in perspective versus open-mindedness and religious fortitude versus loss of faith – are both relatable if not familiar. David’s path in a foreign environment stresses his religious views, molding him into a more flexible and open-minded person. This journey is exemplary of modern orthodox Judaism, which blends orthodox religious observance within the professional business or academic sphere, and resolves conflicts which may oppose religious observance with flexibility and open-mindedness.
Audiences with an interest in religion will enjoy the show’s discourse of religious observance in difficult circumstances – an especially important topic for those who identify as modern orthodox Jews. Furthermore, the show is successful in raising strong questions about faith and coexistence.
Overall A KREUTZER SONATA is a strong production for its stage in development. It raises important questions about religion, coexistence, and flexibility in perspective.
More of Brandon Saloy's work at: https://brandonsaloy.com/
Strong movements, beautiful singing, and heartfelt emotions bring history to life in the Yiddish musical AMERIKE THE GOLDEN LAND. The musical follows the journey of Europe’s and Russia’s Jews to the Lower East Side, depicting their hardships, pain, and the joys of immigrant life. Showing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on an extended run until August 20th, discount tickets are available here.
The musical revisits the archives of Yiddish theater to present a snapshot of immigrant life for early 20th century NYC Jews . The overall journey depicted in the show displays a culture of immigrants trying to “open doors” for their communities and their brethren in Europe. The story culminates with immigrants trying to keep the gates of Ellis Island open behind them, coming full circle to the show’s opening where immigrants push to open the gates before them.
Such a story is increasingly relevant in the US as immigration becomes a heated political issue. AMERIKE succeeds in relating its audience to the struggles of a class of immigrants who grew to become major contributors to US culture. It reminds New Yorkers of their humble beginnings, that at one point we were all immigrants. The show also encourages keeping our “gates open” for immigrants.
AMERIKE successfully portrays the difficulty of passing through Ellis Island as a family (sometimes a child or a spouse was withheld), the challenges of earning an income, and the fight for workers’ rights. This will resonate with audiences as these historical issues that were faced by the immigrants of the early 20th century still plague modern day immigrants and working class citizens.
The Yiddish component of this musical propels it, providing it with unparalleled authenticity. Furthermore, using the language of the immigrants reinforces the influence that Yiddish language has had on NY humor, entertainment, dialect, and culture. Furthermore, Yiddish is an emotive and witty language that when used in song can express sadness, happiness, anger, and humor in a simplistic and palatable combination. While most New Yorkers aren’t proficient in the language, many are familiar with some Yiddish words (oy vey!). The show displays subtitles in English and Russian so following along is easy.
To summarize, the Yiddish musical AMERIKE THE GOLDEN LAND immerses its audience in the struggles and joys of New York’s Jewish immigrants . AMERIKE is mindful of the past, yet empowering for modern audiences, making it relevant at a time when society needs both to move forward.
A taste of the music in the show Lebn zol kolumbus (Long Live Columbus!)
Packed with gunshots, violent lighting, a lingering spooky base effect which grows to a terrifying rumble, slaughter, and a torture scene, 1984 on Broadway is 100 minutes of gut dropping terror. Based off George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian novel, the play displays a grim world in which all is controlled by an omnipresent government that rules with such supreme force that people’s thoughts are constantly monitored. Those with disloyal thoughts are brutally punished. Showing at the Hudson Theater, discount tickets are available beginning at $35 here.
But what’s to say about the piece aside from a horrifically frightening contextualization of Orwell’s dystopia? For one, it beckons audiences to contemplate the absence of freedom of speech and expression. Also, because theater is experiential, audiences enter this chilling world in which people are tortured for thought crimes. This combination of contemplation and experience evokes a sobering discourse of freedom and government. On this, I argue the play fell short of its capability and my expectation.
The relevance of the extreme scenarios as comparative thought experiments is undoubtable. However, my expectation of 1984, as I would assume many others’, was that the dystopic play would offer discourse to current anxiety in global and American politics. In a time when people feel their government has run amok, that media can be infiltrated, and that digitalized information can be surveyed, a play such as 1984 can offer a voice of empowerment and positivity rather one of fright and hopelessness. Because the book and film is bleak, such a play could’ve offered a more positive narrative with a contrasting display of hope and resilience at a time when people most need it.
Conclusively, the play does an outstanding job drawing its audience into the horrors and extremism of Orwell’s 1984. Unfortunately, it does little else.