Film Review: The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
For Love of Theater
About.com Rating fourhalf out of Five
By Jennifer Merin, About.com
* yiddish theater
* actors in yiddish
* zypora spaisman
* shifra lerer
Yiddish Theater Jewish Theater Israeli Theater Theater Review Broadway Review
While vacationing in New York, Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir met Zypora Spaisman, the 84-year-old diva of the Yiddish Theater, and became fascinated by the feisty actress, who enlisted him to document her story. Seven years later, the finished film hits the screen.
An Actress On A Mission
It's Hanukah, 2000, when Dan Katzir meets Zypora Spaisman, and the actress is on a mission to save New York's Yiddish Theater, the Folksbeine, from extinction. Zypora, at age 84, is performing in the Yiddish play, Green Fields. The production is housed in the Mazer Theater on the Lower East Side, on East Broadway in the heart of what was once New York's biggest Jewish community. But the company has run out of funds, and the production will be shut out of its theater if investors can't be found.
In the film, we see scenes from Green Fields, and they're utterly delightful. But the show is a hard sell: Green Fields was written in 1916 in a language that few people now speak or understand, and it's simple love story set in a rural Eastern European Jewish community with which modern Americans have little in common. To make matters worse, at the time, New York happens to be experiencing an exceptionally cold and snowy winter which makes it difficult to get around the city. Even people who've aready bought tickets to the play aren't showing up for performances.
However, after a 42-year career in Yiddish Theater, Zypora is not about to give up. "I survived Hitler--that German who wanted to kill me--and Stalin, I can do this," she says. And she holds out in hope.
The Eight Day Hanukah Countdown
We watch Zypora and her colleagues light Hanukah candles each evening before they perform, and wonder whether the show will survive into the new year. Green Fields gets a rave review in the New York Times and is named one of the year's top ten Off Broadway shows by the New York Post, and company Manager David Romeo begins to negotiation to move the production into the Lambs Theater, in the heart of the Broadway theater district. But, then, a traffic-stopping snow storm prevents potential backers from coming to see the show. Will the show go on?
Actually, Zypora's goal is greater than saving the show. She's trying to save an age-old art form and literary tradition from extinction. Why? "I like speaking Yiddish," she says. "It's mine language."
She also likes acting. And, within the context of America's focus on youth and trendiness, the Yiddish Theater is Zypora's artistic home, the place where she and other aging performers, are still relevant, still respected. This aspect of Zypora's mission is particularly moving.
In telling the story, Katzir enlists living legends of Yiddish theater--Shifra Lerer, Felix Fibich, Seymour Rechzeit and others--in rare interviews and takes us to endangered landmarks of New York's Jewish cultural history.
The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is as charming, humorous, convincing, tenacious and relevant as its wonderful leading lady.