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a Comedy
by Karen Wurl

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : West End Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4931

SHOWING : July 29, 2016 - August 28, 2016



DISPOSSESSED is a romantic comic-fantasy, set in 1928 New York City, about a Yiddish theater company that is rehearsing the classic play “The Dybbuk” (in which a bride is possessed by the ghostly spirit of her dead true love on the day she is supposed to marry another man). The actress playing the leading role is being pressured by her parents to marry the handsome leading man who wants to take over the company, but she wants to make her own choice. With all the stress she is under, she begins to see the living embodiment of the character she’s been playing (the bride) and, together, they try to find the way to the path her heart wants to follow.

Director Peter Hardy
Production Manager/TD Elisabeth Cooper
Leah Alyssa Caputo
Rivka Amelia Fischer
Dov Marc Gowan
Zalman Tyler Hayes
Natan Jake Krakovsky
Chavelle Kathleen McManus
Chaim Scott F. Rousseau
Izzy Chris Schulz
Tsilah Christie Vozniak
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The Dybbuk Redux
by playgoer
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Karen Wurl’s "Dispossessed" starts out with a rehearsal of S. Ansky’s Yiddish drama "The Dybbuk." Things go wrong in a minor fashion. It’s not a terribly original start for a play, but it introduces all the characters in the story. There’s Rivka (Amelia Fischer), playing the lead character of Leah, a bride possessed by the dybbuk of her dead lover on her wedding day to another man. There are her theatre owner parents Chavelle and Chaim (played by Kathleen McManus and Scott Rousseau), her pretty backstage cousin Tsilah (Christie Vozniak), the dashing leading man (Jake Krakovsky), and three other actors in the troupe (Tyler Hayes, Marc Gowan, and Chris Schulz). A line in the script indicates that the cast doesn’t constitute a minyan (a quorum of ten Jews), and that’s the case even when you add in the ninth character of Leah (Alyssa Caputo), who shows up later in the show, in the imagination of Rivka.

The set design by Danyale Taylor contains a costume shop far audience left in the corner of the playing space, with a wall unit and narrow platform adjoining it, upstage. The main playing area is the empty floor. A secondary playing space is on a higher platform between and primarily behind the two portions of the audience, making for neck-craning viewing. There are no walls to the set; black curtains are used to enclose the space. The props and set dressing (also by Mr. Taylor) give some life to the space, hinting that the play takes place in various portions of a theatre. Jane B. Kroessig’s costumes also add life, with a couple of lovely wedding gowns for Rivka and Leah. The men’s costumes are more basic, but give a definite feel of the play’s time period (1928).

Harley Gould’s lighting design is not complex, lighting areas of the stage as needed, with one circular vortex effect in one of the replays of the scene from "The Dybbuk." Dan Bauman’s sound design uses nice klezmer-inflected music pre-show and to signal act ends, and also provides an echo effect in the same replay scene, as the unseen dybbuk speaks to Rivka/Leah, who is trapped within that circle of light. I found the replay scene a bit confusing. It seemed to be approximating a live performance (perhaps at a tech run-through?), although the show hadn’t opened and a subsequent replay of the scene used none of the technical trickery of lights and sound.

Part of that scene from "The Dybbuk" (really, the dullest portion) also starts the second act. It’s clear that Ms. Wurl has researched the play and the time period, mentioning its premiere in Vilner, Poland and adding a reference to the real-life Thomashefsky Yiddish theatre troupe as a rival company in New York City. There may also be a reference at the end to a real-life crossover from the Yiddish theatre to the Broadway "legitimate" theatre, but not one I recognized. (It could possibly have been an anachronistic reference to Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle, although I heard what sounded to me like "Morris" and "Catherine;" Catherine Conn was Kitty Carlisle’s birth name. The play’s program could benefit by an essay by dramaturg Kyra Cohen to describe the true-life underpinnings of the world of the play.)

Acting is fine throughout, with Ms. Fischer doing wonderful physical and vocal work as the possessed bride in the initial scene we see from "The Dybbuk." Ms. McManus does her usual dynamic job of bringing her character to life, and Christie Vozniak is an engaging presence throughout. Jake Krakovsky has just the right look and behavior for a handsome, slyly salacious leading man, balanced by Chris Schulz’s somewhat ungainly and sincere presence as another suitor for Rivka’s hand. Alyssa Caputo gets several hearty laughs as a fictional character come to life, amazed at the freedom of women in 1920’s America. All the others do good work too, although the characters played by Messrs. Gowan and Hayes don’t have much to do. Mr. Hayes’ playing of the shofar in the initial scene is spot-on, though.

There’s an unusual resolution to the romantic dilemma of Rivka, torn between two suitors, one who has been a platonic friend since childhood and one whose swoon-worthy charismatic presence is a shot in the arm for the acting troupe he hopes to take over. It’s perhaps a bit contrived of a resolution, but it lets us see that a 1920’s woman could live life on her own terms without alienating friends or family. It’s a sweet ending that lands the play firmly in the territory of heartwarming comedy.

Director Peter Hardy has gotten acceptable (or better) Yiddish accents out of his cast and has staged the action so that the audience isn’t overly inconvenienced by the problematic sightlines created by the disjointed, opposite-corner set-up of the playing area. "Dispossessed" is a thoroughly Jewish show, but one with universal appeal. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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