Brief Reviews: Wit, Warmth and Comedy on New York Stage
Zero Mostel’s ferocious talent, razor wit and volatility come to life in this one-man show set in Mostel’s art studio during an imagined interview. Writer-performer Jim Brochu’s impersonation is right on, including the booming voice. Zero Hour combines humor, pathos and backstage lore to explore the actor-activist’s stage and screen successes, love of painting and righteous indignation: Mostel was blacklisted in the 1950s, accused of being a member of the American Communist Party. Directed by Piper Laurie. Through January 31 at Theatre at St. Clement’s, New York (www.zerohourshow.com). —Barbara Trainin Blank
With his payes, beard and dangling tzitzis, the once-Catholic Yisrael Campbell is a sight to behold. The show’s title refers to his three conversions, each necessitating a symbolic circumcision, as he went from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox. With gentle but unstinting humor he describes his journey, from an alcoholic and drug user once married to an Egyptian Muslim, to making aliya and marrying his Talmud teacher. The show leaves you wanting to befriend this funny, heimishe guy who, no kidding, started his Jewish journey reading Leon Uris’s Exodus. Through February 28 at the Bleecker Street Theatre in New York (check to see if it is being extended;www.circumcisemetheplay.com ). —Zelda Shluker
Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical
Zany Jewish comic, brilliant nightclub and improv performer and consummate actor—Danny Kaye was all of these, as this show demonstrates. Robert McElwaine’s admiring if conventional book and snappy score with composer Bob Bain also pay important tribute to wife Sylvia Fine as accomplished composer, wife, manager and agent. Brian Childers nails both the Catskill charmer and international star. Through January 31 at St. Luke’s Theatre, Off-Broadway (check to see if it is being extended; www.dannyandsylvia.com). —Jules Becker
The Rose at Brandeis: Works from the Collection
The latest exhibition at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a virtual Who’s Who of 20th-century art. On view through May 23, the exhibit showcases approximately 120 pieces and highlights the breadth of the trailblazing collection with works by Marsden Hartley, Reginald Marsh, Milton Avery, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell and Larry Rivers, Max Weber and Cindy Sherman, among others.
The earliest works date back to the beginning of the 20th century, but the show begins with a small 1934 oil painting, Reclining Nude, by Pablo Picasso. The artist’s mistress had recently given birth to their child, and he reimagined her portrait as a bowl of fruit. Beside it, the curators have mounted a painting in browns and grays of a fruit bowl overflowing with peaches, grapes and pears by another master of Cubism, Georges Braque. By comparison, the Braque looks almost realistic.
“I realized as we put this exhibit together that we had created a hundred-years’ survey of Modernism and contemporary art,” said Roy Dawes, director of museum operations. He and Adelarina Jedrzejczak are the show’s cocurators. They arranged the exhibition in loosely chronological order. Some groupings, like the Picasso and Braque, are related by subject. Others are related by style—Modernism, Social Realism, Surrealism, photography, video, Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism.
It is a felicitous arrangement. Avoiding rigid chronology permits the art to form more rational relationships. Even familiar works look fresh when mounted in a new context. A round, black Louise Nevelson sculpture hanging above the bold colors of a striped Morris Louis painting seems organic, like an alien moon rising over a landscape.
The museum’s mission statement affirms the Rose’s commitment to freedom of expression, and its newest acquisition, STAVE, which Jenny Holzer created in 2008, honors that intent. A controversial artist, Holzer expresses political activism in her works. STAVE is an electronic sculpture that uses texts taken from transcripts, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, of sworn testimony by detainees and guards at Gitmo, the Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their incriminating words in double-sided red, white and blue led messages slide nonstop around the tall sculpture like an endless ribbon.
The exhibition coincides with the publication of a long awaited catalog, The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis (Abrams) that documents the major cultural movements in contemporary art over the past five decades. The Brandeis collection is especially strong in the art of the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s a bittersweet time for Rose Museum as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2011. It has amassed an internationally acclaimed collection of approximately 8,000 modern and contemporary works. Yet, its future is uncertain. Difficult economic times have obliged the country’s only secular Jewish university to consider selling parts of its collection and converting the museum building into classrooms. Three members of the Board of Overseers have brought suit to stop the sale and to keep the museum open.
While that dispute sorts itself out, museum-goers can still partake of the satisfying forshpeis that is “The Rose at Brandeis.” It is a taste of the feast that the collection represents (781-736-2000; www.brandeis.edu ). —Shirley Moskow
48 Jews: What It Means to Be Jewish
These portraits by Israeli-born Abshalom Jac Lahav don’t show 48 Jews. Or do they? Einstein, Freud and Anne Frank? Sure. Frida Kahlo, Sister Edith Stein? Er…maybe. But Elvis Presley? Lahav is after different quarry here. How do we represent a Jew when the subjects define their own identity in individual ways or are defined by forces outside themselves? Lahav, referencing a portrait series by Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol, uses different artistic styles in each colorful painting, from Rembrandt to Bonnard, to raise provocative questions about Jews and Jewishness in the diaspora. Through April 4 at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami (www.jewishmuseum.com).—Stewart Kampel
Getting to Know a People Through Film: Two Festivals
By Judith Gelman Myers
It is hard to keep up with the huge number of Jewish or Israeli-themed works being screened at film festivals. While many will be shown at a variety of venues around the country—and the fortunate ones will eventually be released theatrically—others get limited exposure. This is also true of films in niche film festivals. For instance, the third Other Israel Film Festival in New York gives voice to the Arab citizens of Israel, who constitute 20 percent of the country’s population. The feature films, documentaries and discussions allow audiences to encounter the everyday lives and human dimension that lie beyond the news.
Then there is the Latinbeat Film Festival, sponsored by The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, which, though not specifically Jewish, put the spotlight on three Jewish-themed films from emerging film industries in Mexico and Latin America. Taken together, they create a portrait of a well-to-do Jewish Latin American presence at peace with itself and its neighbors.
Unfortunately, this loving tribute to his aunt made by dazzling Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri combines bad storytelling with fuzzy intentions. Aunt Zahara tells lots of stories, but unless you already know what she’s talking about, it’s impossible to figure out their significance. Bakri’s voiceovers, though magnificently delivered, do nothing to reduce the confusion. More unfortunate is Bakri’s melding of a tribute and politic commentary. It is a diatribe against Israel in the guise of a loving tribute, as if Bakri is using his aunt’s suffering to score a point against the opposing team. Produced by Carole Zabar and Bakri (firstname.lastname@example.org ).
This magnificent documentary reveals how a family of Palestinian musicians living in the Galilee triumphs over isolation. Master oudmaker Elias Jubran suffered personal isolation when his parents rejected his passion and proclivity for music, which he studied nevertheless until 1948, when an Israeli embargo allowed no Arabic music or instruments into the new state. Finding themselves both politically and culturally isolated, Jubran and his children have spent their lives preserving their identity and their culture by devoting themselves to Arabic music—from making traditional instruments to transforming traditional forms with 21st-century musical conventions. Balzli & Fahrer Productions, GmBH (www.swissfilms.ch).
Sayed Kashua—Forever Scared
Winner of the Prime Minister Prize for a Hebrew Author in 2005, Palestinian Sayed Kashua unstintingly shares his fears, hopes and neuroses in this topsy-turvy documentary. Brilliant, sensitive, insightful and paranoid, he finds his existence as an Arab who loves Israeli culture both wonderful and infuriating. Does his surreal life make him neurotic? Or was he plunged into this love-hate relationship with both himself and his country by congenital neurosis? Either way, Forever Scared will make you laugh…and drive you crazy. Heymann Brothers Films (www.heymann-films.com).
The odd setting for this film—the Entre Ríos colony, devised by Baron Maurice de Hirsch to resettle Eastern European Jews as farmers in Argentina (at the end of 1895, 64 percent of Argentina’s Jewish population lived in Entre Rios province)—sets the stage for a breathtakingly beautiful film about the power of looking within. Award-winning director María Victoria Menis employs Buñuel-esque sequences to tell the story of a child so homely even her Jewish mother couldn’t bear to gaze on her, but whose future is remade by the machine that gives the film its title: a camera obscura, a photographic device that creates images by bringing light into a dark box and turning it upside down, transforming the external into its own interior language. It is a metaphor, but it is also what the film does: It brings the outside in, transforms it and creates truth—and beauty and love—where none existed before. Sophie Dulac Productions (National Center for Jewish Film, www.jewishfilm.org).
This slow-moving but sweet coming-of-age film about a Jewish teen and his dysfunctional family in Montevideo, Uruguay, gives us a glimpse of what life is like for our wealthy coreligionists south of the border. This film opens a tiny window onto one slice of life, with a pleasant dose of gentle comedy about the pain of unrequited teen love. An international coproduction from Uruguay, Argentina, Spain and Mexico. Rezo Films (www.rezofilms.com).
Like the earlier My Mexican Shiva (2007), Nora’s Will portrays a shiva gone awry in a Mexican-Jewish family. Full of humor and tremendous poignancy, it shines with intelligent self-awareness and compassionate insight. Written and directed by Marianna Chenillo. Cacerola Films (www.imdb.com).
Jewish Baroque Music
This is a deftly performed, cleverly programmed and slightly misleadingly titled set of Baroque chamber and vocal music from Italy’s Ensemble Salmone Rossi. As the group’s name suggests, pride of place on the recording goes to the works of the eponymous Rossi, a composer and performer at the 16th to 17th-century court of Mantua. However, no small part of the CD’s value comes from the inclusion of less well-known composers like Avraham Caceres, who lived and wrote in Amsterdam at the beginning of the 18th century, and Carlo Grossi, another Mantuan. Perhaps the most interesting inclusions, though, are excerpts from Handel’s oratorio “Esther” and several works by the non-Jewish Austrian-Italian composer Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti. Lidarti composed several stirring settings of Hebrew texts that were frequently performed in synagogues in the 18th century. The record’s producer, Andrea Maria Panzuti, makes some particularly inspired programming choices, juxtaposing Caceres’s version of “Hameshiach” with Lidarti’s, and Handel’s “Esther” with Lidarti’s. Lidarti doesn’t suffer in the comparison with his more famous colleague. And it is always good to have more of Rossi, particularly a sprightly “Ein Keiloheinu” that anticipates Louis Lewandowski’s version. Concerto (its Web site,https://concerto.musicmedia.it , is under construction). —George Robinson
Katchko: Three Generations of Cantorial Art
Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray highlights her family’s cantorial legacy in this compilation of 22 selections composed by her grandfather Adolph, and transmitted by her father, Theodore. New and old blend in her soprano renditions of pieces like “Hashkivenu” and “Acheinu Kol Beys Yisroel” accompanied by guitar or string quartet, side by side with archival recordings of her father and grandfather. Also notable are two duets with her father. An accompanying book features essays and music for 27 compositions (www.cantordebbie.com ). —R.M.
When Rose, matriarch of the secular Jewish Belgian clan, dies, the family no longer has her wisdom to guide them through existential dilemmas. The lively, cranky characters grapple with issues of betrayal, intermarriage, circumcision and burial. Though their choices diverge—a grandson marries a Muslim, a granddaughter marries an Orthodox convert—their lodestar remains Rose’s belief that the tango makes all problems disappear. Sam Garbarski’s sympathetic film is endearing. Menemsha Films (www.menemshafilms.com). —Susan Adler
Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women
Three Jewish comics—Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman and Corey Feldman—eat and chat in a deli. Their conversation inevitably leads to great trailblazing Jewish comedians Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, Wendy Wasserstein and Madelaine Kahn. Each was sui generis, but all courageously broke gender barriers, opening the door for the women who followed. Produced and directed by Rachel Talbot (www.makingtrouble.com). —Z.S.
The People v. Leo Frank
Knowing about the violent end of Leo Frank, a New York Jew who supervised a family pencil factory, makes for difficult viewing. Reenactments and interviews replay the murder of a 13-year-old employee and the ridiculous conduct of the trial—and the anti-Semitism that led to Frank’s lynching. Directed by Ben Loeterman. BLPI Productions (www.leofrankfilm.com; 800-553-7752). —Z.S.