Saturday, November 16, 2019

REVIEW: “KVETCHES OF 1932” MIXES EXCELLENCE WITH DISCOMFORT

By Jane Primerano

Centenary Stage Company’s Fringe Festival features an eclectic mix of short plays or reviews from the serious, even tragic, to the light and frothy.

Kvetches of 1932: Vaudeville in Jewish is designed to be light and frothy, a selection of music and humor from Yiddish Vaudeville. To an extent it works. The three performers: Yelena Shmulenson, Steve Sterner and Allen Lewis Rickman, who wrote and directed the show, are all amazingly talented. Sterner plays an upright piano like he was born in Tin Pan Alley. Shmulenson disguises a lovely singing voice appropriately in the pieces that demand less than perfection and lets it rip in a nice ballad. Rickman has put together an interesting goulash of humor and song and is a natural comic.

Some of the pieces were excellent: Everyone should get the chance to hear “Who’s on First” in Yiddish. Letters written simultaneously by a married couple were spot on. An Italian-Jewish couple picking baby names was truly funny.

But parts of the show were uncomfortable. Of course it was dated. Although 1932 is a date picked out of thin air by Rickman to represent the peak of Yiddish Vaudeville, the costumes, the jokes, the accents were appropriate to that date. But dated was fine. Kitsch was fine, expected even.

I thought perhaps I was a little unsettled by the ultra-Jewish stereotyping because I’m not Jewish (full disclosure, I had a Jewish great-grandfather, but I never met him). However, my companion for the evening is Jewish and felt exactly the same way I did. We both wondered how her parents would have felt about it. Not that it is in poor taste, it isn’t. But parts don’t feel quite right.

I’m not saying don’t take the opportunity to see it. Please do. It serves the purpose it was meant to serve: it’s a set piece from a different era, offering up music and jokes you don’t hear anymore and doing it well. Just don’t expect to sit complacently in your seat.

And, somebody, please tell the CSC board member who did the introduction that “kvetch” is a one-syllable word. . .