Amidst falling walls (Tsvishn Falndike Vent)
This show with “Songs of Survival” (National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, until December 10) is a collection of Yiddish songs that are emotional and insightful testimonies of people who experienced Nazi persecution in the 1930s and 40s. One of the characters tells us: “Throughout the war, Jews sang, played music and composed songs in ghettos, concentration and work camps, in the forests, in battles and in secret cabarets and theaters.”
The show – the songs are all sung in Yiddish, with an English subtitled translation – also includes first-hand testimonies from Holocaust survivors through their own poetry and music. The music was curated and arranged by Zalmen Mlotek, the libretto was curated and written by Avram Mlotek (his fascinating). WSJ Essay shows how personal this work is) and the eight-member cast directed by Matthew “Motl” Didner.
According to the theater, the title comes from the partisan anthem by 22-year-old partisan Hirsh Glik, which became the rallying anthem of Jewish resistance fighters. The songs in the show are among 400 songs collected by Shmerke Kacgerginski, a Vilnius partisan and poet who, after surviving the 1945 war, traveled across Eastern Europe interviewing Holocaust survivors.
The 80-minute revue embodies hope, resistance, bigotry, despair, love, sadness, tragedy, joy and pride. Mordkhe by Steven Skybell narrates: “The truest history of humanity is written only in blood. The whole world already knows how Jews died. But we know far less about how Jews defended themselves against the murderers and fought them…”
The range of experiences is evident in the lyrics we hear: “When will all this wandering stop? “When will the end finally come? When will this war end? Because we can’t go on like this.” “They hunt us, they harass us, they torture us, they hunt us, they harass us, they torture us, they torture us.” Such words shape history to this day and are the experience of everyone , who face injustice, persecution, grave injury and cruelty in today’s wars.
We hear about the children in the Warsaw Ghetto who “snuck into the Aryan side by digging holes under the walls.” They want little mice with frozen eyes full of desperation and hunger to crawl into an Aryan apartment and look out the doorway. Occasionally they were given a crust of bread or a few potatoes. And then, under threat of death, they crawled back into the ghetto with their treasure through the holes and cracks.”
Other songs focus on humor and irreverence, about carrying on as well and happily as possible, and others celebrate life, survival and resistance. “We live forever, we are here! We want to sing and jump freely.” “Drive us out of our houses. Cut our beards. Jews, be happy! Let them go to hell!” While the names of those who wrote the songs and other important personalities are projected on the walls – including Kacgerginski himself, 1908-1954, Hirsh Glik, poet, 1922-1944, Kasriel Broyde, songwriter, 1907–1945, Misha Veksler, conductor, 1907–1943, Hey Leyvick, writer, 1888–1962 – a final text sounds: “We live forever, we are here!” Here, too, the words echo through time – an assertion of presence and a reminder of the importance of a world free from bigotry, tyrants, divisions and prejudice.
The Gardens of Anuncia
The Gardens of Anuncia (Lincoln Center Theater, through December 31st), a calm and sensitively realized musical by Michael John LaChiusa, is based on the early life story of his long-time friend and collaborator, the director and choreographer Graciela Daniele, who also directed and choreographed (together with Alex Sanchez) this show.
We see the character Anuncia as both a rebellious, curious girl who grew up in 1940s Argentina (played by Kalyn West) and a wiser, older woman (Priscilla Lopez), both in cross-generational communication with her younger self who entertains her also with us when she thinks about how much joy she has had in dance and theater for a long time and, most recently, in gardening.
She constantly communicates with the nature around her. One of the most memorable intruders into this room is a deer, played by Tally Sessions, who sings one of the musical’s most memorable songs: “Dance While You Can.” (He later returns as a meaner, more cynical deer.)
The story focuses on women and the matriarchal home in which Anuncia grew up as the Peronist regime became authoritarian and threatening. Eden Espinosa plays Anuncia’s mother, Mary Testa plays her “Granmama” and Andréa Burns plays “Tía”. The first hides a traumatic secret that her daughter only understands much later.
Testa’s character is a booming, slightly frightening presence who ends up telling the story of her relationship with her husband (Enrique Acevedo), and Burns is a beguiling mix of reason, candor and mischief – the best kind of aunt. Whatever their differences and conflicts, the women are united by love and determination that Anuncia can achieve her ambitions.
The cast’s singing is great, while the staging – with rows of hanging plants – is completely bland, but is thankfully interrupted when the stage suddenly becomes a sultry nightclub. The story also feels unfocused and incomplete (there are so many references to Anuncia’s amazing, colorful adult career in dance and theater, but we don’t see any of it). But the riveting performances mean that the distant past in these women’s lives is compellingly brought back to life. Perhaps more about Anuncia/Daniele’s life – Fosse and all – will unfold in a future show.