Saturday, October 09, 2004

Laughter in 3 Languages (Actors' Summit)

Fireworks greet Dorothy & Reuben at Actors' Summit

Okay, let’s start off with a confession. I am the self-appointed President of the Reuben and Dorothy Silver fan club. The rest of the world can have their Lunt and Fontaine, Tandy and Cronin. I’ll take OUR Reuben and Dorothy. When they perform or direct I’m there, clapping and qvelling (a Yiddish term meaning “beyond loving” that fits well into this review).

Several years ago the Silvers conceived a reader’s theatre style presentation which they could take on the road. Entitled ‘LAUGHTER IN 3 LANGUAGES’ its been performed in on the north coast, in the Sunshine state, and all the rest of the globe including performances in Russia for Refusniks (Jews who were being denied exit out of the Soviet Union). Their latest presentation is a two-week run at Hudson’s Actors’ Summit.

The opening night’s performance was delayed for half-an-hour due to a fireworks presentation. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t for the dynamic duo, it was for the opening of a new shopping center in downtown Hudson, about a quarter of a mile from the theatre. The Silver didn’t need the external fireworks, they sent off their own with wonderful performances.

The show centers on a series of personal story telling and the reading of writings by famous and not-so-famous Jewish writers. The show is performed in English, Yiddish (the Jewish “mother tongue”) spoken with simultaneous translations and “Yinglish” (a mixture of Yiddish and English, such as “Ya vant maybe a bowl mit panans [bananas]?”)

The script is both charming and heart-warming. Some of the most winning segments include the letters sent to the advice column which appeared in the Forward, the most popular of the Yiddish language newspapers. The column, which in English was entitled, “Packet of Letters” was the forerunner to Ann Landers and Dear Abby, two Jewish ladies who may well have borrowed the idea. The topics include sage advice on women’s right to vote, dimples in the chin, immigrant homesickness and arranged marriages. Reuben, who is fluent in Yiddish, reads. Dorothy does simultaneous and often hysterically funny English interpretations. It’s like being at an opera where you don’t understand the Italian being sung, but the billboard above the stage clarifies for you. The difference is that Dorothy adds facial expressions, pauses and intonations that add to the hilarity. It’s often fun just to listen to the audience. Those who understand Yiddish, laugh as Reuben is reading. The rest echo the hysteria when Dorothy finishes her translations. It’s a device that works very, very well.

The reading of a chapter from Leo Rosten’s ‘THE EDUCATION OF HYMAN KAPLAN’ is a total delight. Reuben was made to play Kaplan. I’d love to see him play the role in the play of the same name. “Dear Bella,” a story which includes a tender segment about of the relatives distributing the money mamma had in her piano is touching and a segment in which an immigrant places $20 in the bank is hysterical.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The year 2004 marks the 350th celebration of the founding of a permanent Jewish settlement in the United States. It seems only fitting that the Silvers use their extraordinary skills to help take some people on a trip through nostalgia and to introduce others to the joys of Yiddish literature and thought. Its a journey that is well worth taking.