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"The Essence: A Yiddish Theatre Dim Sum"

Allen Lewis Rickman and Yelena Shmulenson -- better known as the shtetl couple from the Coen brothers’ Oscar-nominated “A Serious Man” -- will appear in “The Essence: A Yiddish Theatre Dim Sum” at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.

The play, also featuring Broadway veteran Steve Sterner, is an irreverent introduction to all things Yiddish. Described by its creators as ‘a crash course in Jew’, “The Essence…” features drama, melodrama, music, peculiarities of the language, and the Yiddish New Testament. “This is not one of those nostalgia things for ‘alter kakers’,” said Rickman, who also wrote and directed. “Our best audiences have been gentile college students. We translate the Yiddish sections with supertitles, so it’s kind of like they’re watching a wise-assed foreign movie. People who like very traditional Yiddish theatre, on the other hand... they’re not so happy.” Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the 97-year-old Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, evidently agrees; he said older people have been “quite shocked” by the play.

“The Essence…” will perform six times during the Festival, between August 14th and 26th; details are available at the show’s website, EssenceOfYiddishTheatre.com.

Beyond “A Serious Man”, Rickman is familiar from his work in Barry Levinson’s Emmy-winning “You Don’t Know Jack” and his recurring role on “Boardwalk Empire” (Broadway-goers also saw him in last season’s “Relatively Speaking”); Shmulenson, from her work in “The Good Shepherd” and on ABC’s “Life On Mars”. (She will also be joining the ‘”Boardwalk Empire” club’, appearing in Season 3.) Sterner, also the show’s musical director, appeared on Broadway in “Oh, Brother” and “The Sheik Of Avenue B”, and is perhaps New York’s best-known silent film accompanist.

Originally presented in 2007 by New York’s New Yiddish Rep, where it played to sold-out houses, “The Essence…” has also been performed in Amherst, Massachusetts, in Stockholm, Sweden, and at the CUNY Grad Center. The published version of the play appeared in the anthology “Yiddishkeit” (Abrams 2011, co-edited by the late Harvey Pekar), where it was very well received.

Created in 1996, The New York International Fringe Festival has been described as “a two-week-long buffet of plays, musicals, magic shows, stand-up comedy, mime and just about any other kind of performance you can come up with”. Running this year from August 10th-26th, the Fringe is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing in more than 20 venues. Total attendance typically exceeds 70,000.

Shows that have premiered at FringeNYC include “Urinetown”, “Silence! The Musical”, “Dog Sees God”, and the musical adaptation of “Debbie Does Dallas”. Other notable Fringe presentations include the internationally-produced “Charlie Victor Romeo” and the American English-language premiere of Tom Waits and William Burroughs’ “The Black Rider”.

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  • YSR

    Did anybody go? What dd you think?

    August 20, 2012

    • Brad R

      I went on Tuesday night, which I think was opening night. The guy who did the German accent, telling the others that they could/should not do Jewish theater and paid off the female star of the show was great, especially when he did the bit about the poor kid whose father lost both hands in the war. I found it especially rewarding when I understood some of the language without the need of supertitles. I'm going to the Yiddish Farm retreat next weekend and anybody interested in the language should check it out.

      August 22, 2012

    • YSR

      Goshen, NY. here is their website: http://www.yiddishfar...­

      August 23, 2012

  • Mike

    Three of us went {I think} besides the actor/playwright. I thought it was great; very much a tribute to the Yiddish of a bygone era, and for a fringe festival production it was well-staged and well-produced. And funny: "Oy vey Maria"

    August 21, 2012

  • Madeline

    Hi! Thx for the scoop about this play! Can't make it so late on a work nite, but I'm gonna try for the Sunday matinee next week. Looks like an interesting, modern twist on Yiddish theatre.

    August 18, 2012

    • YSR

      Dear Madeline, Sunday matinee is sold out already. The show runs only 85 minutes, please come tomorrow night, or friday at 4.

      August 19, 2012

    • Madeline

      Thx for the heads up but would conflict with work schedule. Thought I saw tix online but guess they're gone. :(

      August 19, 2012

  • Mike

    August 17, 2012

  • Mike

    August 14, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Looking forward to meeting everyone.

    August 11, 2012

  • Mike

    I suggested Sunday evening based on a member's preference. She can't make it, so it could be another date and time, but I already booked my ticket. There are no other regular meetups, sorry to say.

    August 11, 2012

  • Brad R

    Hola, Yidn. I'd prefer to see it on a night where I didn't have to go to work the next day, so I'll probably make it on a Tuesday or Thursday night, or both, if it's good; but what is the interest of all of you in Yiddish, and are there other regular meetups?

    August 10, 2012

  • Mike

    There's only one Sunday evening performance on Aug. 19th AT 9pm so I'll make it for then. Attention everyone (except for A.L. the movie star): get your own tickets.

    August 1, 2012

  • Adela P.

    What would be the time? If on Sunday I can make it in the evening.

    July 31, 2012

  • A.L. R.

    Be sure to order tickets in advance -- http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=E#TheEss -- as it's a small theatre and there's a good chance it will see out. And remember, if you can't make it when the group comes, there are five other performances, too.

    July 31, 2012

  • Mike

    This is a great find. I suggest either Aug. 12th or the 19th. What works best for all of you?

    July 31, 2012

  • A.L. Rickman changed the location to The Robert Moss Theater

    July 30, 2012

11 went

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