We began rehearsals for our season opener in the throes of summer – on July 29 – and the playwright Leah Napolin came down from NYC and regaled us with stories of meeting I.B. Singer and working with for three days on her adaptation of his landmark short story. Here’s a choice excerpt from her rehearsal remarks.
And as the rehearsal weeks went on, our creative team shared lots of insights and aspirations with a number of great interviewers. Read interviews with the playwright, the composer, the director.
Here’s Lisa Traiger’s interview with our great singer-songwriter composer Jill Sobule in The Forward.
And another feature on the composer courtesy of Theatre Washington
The Washington Post had this incredible feature the weekend before previews began. “‘Yentl’ sings a new tune in a new stage version getting its D.C. premiere!”
And one last great feature to share, this time an interview with director Shirley Serotsky, in DC Theatrescene.
There’s more and more background to share, but a lot the rest is in our playbill at the theater and we want to encourage you to refer to your hardcopy of the program in contemplating the great critic Alisa Solomon’s wonderful think piece on “What Becomes An American Jewish Icon Most?”
And there’s my introduction, a welcome to the world of Yentl and why we’ve chosen to open the season with this warm but hardly fuzzing iconic work, rejiggered and highly re-energized for our cultural and political moment. Here’s a bit of what I shared in the program:
At first blush, you might think of Yentl as comfort fare; a gentle piece of Yiddish-inflected kitsch, beloved but familiar. But that would be a misreading of this tale’s most animating and dynamic aspect; its protagonist’s fighting spirit.
For with this production, in this theatrical setting, at this cultural and political moment, we’re no longer thinking of Yentl as gentle. Today we see Yentl, first and foremost, as a rebel; Yentl as a fighter against community-imposed boundaries, mores, and onerous rules. Yentl will have none of that. And yet our Yentl is no Angry Revolutionary. She fights with her community because she loves her religion’s sacred texts and wants full access to them. She is a respectful, anti-authoritarian; a positivist refusenik, rejecting the expectation that she fall subserviently in line.
Most importantly, this Yentl is a lover; of text and tradition and of other men and women, marking her as an exceedingly modern, bi-amarous, potentially bi-sexual creation. What’s not to love about such a passionate, fully-integrated, potentially conflicted 19 year old?
Our Yentl becomes who she is not by any design. She is our accidental activist—a reluctant religious outlaw—committed to studying Talmud while stumbling into feminist liberation and sexual awakening…
As the great critic and Jewish cultural scholar Alisa Solomon points out in an accompanying essay in these pages, playwright Leah Napolin gave us an icon for the ’70s in her adaptation of Yentl; a Jewish feminist answer to Tevye and his folksy paternalism. Barbara Streisand gave us a Yentl for the ’80s in all its grandeur and, yes, self-regard, elevating herself and her character to epic proportions.
Songwriter Jill Sobule gives us a Yentl for the 21st century; one pointing to Marriage Equality regardless of gender or sexuality. This is a Yentl for our times and a fore-runner to a woman running for president of these United State. As such, this is our most political Yentl yet; internationally so as well; a symbol of one of the Women of The Wall, engaged in a monthly struggle at The Western Wall in Jerusalem to celebrate the new month in spite of resistance from some in the ultra-religious community. This Yentl represents a welcoming of women into the clergy across religious spectra and denominations. Our Yentl may well stand with women in Israel opposing war and injustice in Israel, risking critique and derision from a passionately patriotic community.
Our Yentl is a lover and a fighter. That’s the Yentl I see. What do you see?
What do you see? What did you think of the show? Before reading any of the rave reviews or the mixed one (all which we’ll share and reflect upon in a follow up posting), what did you make of all that energy coming off the relatively tiny Theater J stage? All those actors and musicians? Did our creative artists fulfill their ambitions, in your estimation? Does the concept work?
Who is Yentl for you?