Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Jew Grows in Brooklyn

You don’t have to be Jewish or from Brooklyn, but it “vouldn’t hoit”

The family of Jake Ehrenreich went from being one of the wealthiest in Poland to laborers in the work camps of Siberia. Doesn’t sound like the stuff that entertainment is made from, but Ehrenreich, who is now on stage in his solo show at the Hanna Theatre in A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, succeeds in taking us on a trip filed with pathos, comedy and some awakening.

Ehrenreich, who is 55, has appeared on Broadway in DANCIN, BARNUM and They're Playing Our Song. He has also performed in Songs of Paradise and The Golden Land, off-Broadway shows written in Yiddish, the language of the Jews of central and Eastern Europe.

He is a good singer, actor and musician. A proficient drummer, he once was considered for inclusion in the band KISS, which ironically numbers among its members, two children of Holocaust survivors.

Performing with a live band, and using multi-media video and photos, Ehrenreich takes the audience on a journey through childhood, the Catskill Borscht Belt days, to his mother’s and sisters’ early Alzheimer’s disease, and to his present day life as husband and father. He paints a picture which reveals the underbelly of who he is and how he got there.

Hanging over the entire evening are the living and dead members of his family. Though it may sound maudlin, there is enough balance of exposition and joy to make the evening an interesting experience.

One of the show’s highlights is a selection of Yiddish songs including Romania, which is considered by some to be the Yiddish national anthem. I wonder if Ehrenreich knows that both Mickey Katz, and his son Joel Grey, who both made that song important parts of their repertories, are Clevelanders.

As for the production, which starts slowly and contains a lot of redundancy, its pretty hard not to appreciate Ehrenreich’s experiences. His life, which is not unlike that of many children of Holocaust survivors, including the silent parents who hid their suffering behind closed emotions, makes for good theatre. Is the message universal? Maybe, maybe not. And, will it affect you if you aren’t Jewish or from Brooklyn? It’s not a requirement, but, of course, it vouldn’t hoit.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: A JEW GROWS IN BROOKLYN is a pleasant evening of theatre. The writing could have been a little sharper and more textured, and the opening a little more emotionally moving, but the shticks work, and the singing and story telling accomplish the production’s ultimate goal of sharing the whys of Ehrenreich’s life.