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    Virgin territory (continued)

    Continued | Back to part 1

    The large cast carries this off well and with varying degrees of Jewishness. Mark Greenfield as the strapping Yankl and Andrea Darriau as Soreh, his wife, know they're worldly and bad even as they're trying to be respectful and good. Vered Hankin as Rivka is, if you'll pardon the expression, a perfect Jewish princess. Elizabeth Gondek is earthily seductive as Mankeh.

    Written by: Sholom Asch.
    Directed by: Aaron Beall.
    Cast: Mark Greenfield, Andrea Darriau, Vered Hankin, Caraid O'Brien, Elizabeth Gondek, Mercedes McAndrew, Naomi Odes, Corey Carthew, David M. Pincus, Shane Baker, Kelly Nolan, Tanya Krohn.
    Translated by Caraid O'Brien.

    Related links: Official site
    And don't be fooled by the less convincingly Jewish members of the cast. The most obvious shiksa in the place just happens to speak the best Yiddish — and she should, she translated the play. Caraid O'Brien, a blonde, Irish-born American studied Hebrew and Yiddish and is now working on a history of the fabled Yiddish theater. O'Brien has done some interesting things with the play, including rendering it in a kind of Yinglish, with enough Yiddish expressions to suggest the sound of the original. (Don't worry — there's a glossary in the program. Just remember to read from back to front.)

    Caraid O'Brien in God of Vengeance  
    Caraid O'Brien
    It occurred to me as the play progressed that there were three ways to watch it. First, the way it was probably intended: as a cautionary morality play. Yankl is an abject sinner who misguidedly thinks he can buy his way out as he continues to do wrong. By today's lights, this is frankly the most boring interpretation and it's not the one that occurred naturally to me.

    Second, and more suited to today's sensibility, the play illustrates the spirit-crushing orthodoxy that denies the individual the chance to live and love. Thus, while mom and dad and rabbi obsess about their precious little girl's virginity, she's busy discovering herself as a woman. It's unlikely that the playwright had this interpretation in mind, but it comes naturally now. In fact, Rivka and Mankeh share some scenes that seem very tender and romantic, though perhaps in 1907 they were meant to shock.

      Playwright Sholom Asch in God of Vengeance
      Playwright Sholom Asch
    And finally, there's another way that you can't help looking at this production in this particular place and time. Here we have a play about the false division between virtue and vice, the virgin and the whore, and where is it being performed? In the cleanest and dirtiest neighborhood on earth, in the very place where tawdry men and easy women until recently came to . . . well, I won't spell it out but you can't help thinking it the whole time.

    Now, these last bastions of burlesque are empty inside and surrounded outside by well-polished Disney stores and suburban chain restaurants. I don't miss the scuzzy old Times Square but I feel equally dirty in the antiseptic new one, each as false to human nature as the other. Did Sholom Asch know he was writing not only about the impossible division between good girls and bad girls, but also about the devil's bargain we've made in turning our city's most famous square into a shopping mall?

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    DECEMBER 7, 1999

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