YENTL Opens The New Season (part 1)

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.
10649649_10152669946259883_2948068715227125029_n 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!”
10628360_10152669945889883_1989294860516468819_n 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?

47 thoughts on “YENTL Opens The New Season (part 1)

  1. I felt there were many interesting elements that made Yentl and enjoyable show to watch but, to keep this response from getting too lengthy I’ll talk about a couple things that stuck with me.

    I know the matter of the music was discussed last night and I personally feel the music was successful in connecting the story that is rooted in tradition and in a Jewish village to both a modern audience and one that is not familiar with Jewish culture. Since a lot of the show’s plot points and dialogue are based on traditions and the laws of the Torah it can difficult to understand and form an emotional connection to. The music helps everyone understand the basic emotions the characters are feeling. Yentl and the other women’s frustrations with their pre-determined gender roles boil down to “I Hate Girl Things” while the unfulfilled attraction between Avigdor and Yentle/Anshel and the unspoken knowledge that their paths must now separate reach their culmination in “Life Goes On Without You.” The music as a whole helps the audience see the links between the characters and the thematic elements that are affecting their lives.

    Furthermore, the music adds to the sense of community. As Sasha mentioned in the talk-back, Judaism needs community to exist and thrive and the songs help create that. When the cast breaks into song they come together as a group and form a community not only with each other but with the audience as we all experience the music together and feel the meaning of the lyrics they sing.

    Another aspect that I thought was very clever was Kendra Rai’s costumes. I noticed a lot of 1930’s elements in the costuming and thought that was a great reference to when Isaac Bashevis Singer came to America and wrote his short story, Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy. The costume were also successful in portraying the yeshivas as scholars that matched well with the bookcase covered set.

    Overall, I thought Yentl was an interesting exploration in a new way to approach musical theatre and stories of Jewish tradition.

    • Molly,
      I agree with you that the music in this play was amazing. It was really one of the highlights for me. I like that you brought up how the music was able to help bring those of us who didn’t understand all of the Jewish traditions right into it and help us understand what was going on. While watching the play, I wasn’t always sure what the characters were referring to when they discussed their faith, but I didn’t realize that it was the music that helped to bring me up to speed with the situation. I never felt like I was missing parts of the story and I think the music was one of the main reasons for this.

  2. As my first play, and a musical nonetheless, I thought it was a magically mesmerizing experience. When the music started I wanted to dance, when the actors/actresses clapped their hands to the beat I wanted to do the same, and at every moment of the play I wanted to be a part of the magic. Maybe this is my personal desire to fulfill my dream of becoming an actor, but I think that the play was brilliant.

    The play was extremely informative on Jewish culture, and more so on the religious practice, whereas G-D’s Honest Truth reflected on Jewish Culture as well, but in a manner that focused on the historical aspects of the Holocaust and the Torah. Because of this play I learned about sins of wearing the opposite gender’s clothing, engagement contracts for marriage, prayers, dowry, divorce laws, matchmakers for orphans, and so many other cultural aspects that I never knew prior to this experience. It was as educational for me as it was theatrical and entertaining.

    Politically I think this play was ingenious. Not only did it focus on Yentl and her fight for Gender Equality, Women’s Rights, and going against societal norms, but the actors themselves were, possibly unknowingly, aiding in the fight to end current-day societal discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. Yes, the play calls for “same-sex” kissing with Avigdor and Anshel, implied “same-sex” sexual activities between Anshel and Avigdor in the song Jonthan and David, and so forth, but the actors not only “acted” as Yently, Anshel, Hadass, and Avigdor, but also executed, in real life, these same-sex actions in reality as Shayna and Sara with their same-sex kiss. Sure, people may pass this off as acting, but in order to act out a kiss one must actually kiss. This is some food for thought that I found interesting.

    I also thought that there was, just like within G-D’s Honest Truth, a take on intergenerational conflict between the “fresh current-day” youth and the “old-school traditional” elderly. It complimented the struggle for gender equality.

    Lastly, transcending boundaries within a society and culture that has been established for many years is not an essay accomplishment, but I think that this play shows how difficult it is and has a realistic depiction of what one person can and cannot do with regards to institutional establishments. I appreciated its realism and that it did not provide some ideological Disney Movie ending. Furthermore, I appreciated that the play goes in depth as to why Avigdor and Anshel stopped talking after Avigdor married and how it the switched to the mother being the reason Hadass and Avigdor did not get married as opposed to the father being the reason. Overall, I thought it was a great play and I wonder if anyone else thought that this play tackled present-day societal norms and stereotypes?

    • I think your review hit the nail on the head, but I would like to expand on the musical aspect you commented on. For me, the music not only added entertainment value, but also depth to the story line. The music gave me insight into how the characters felt, and the beat of the songs helped to convey tone. It added an additional layer of clarity, which was needed, considering the topics at hand were somewhat complex and deep. The hardest part about a live show is to see inside the characters mind, but this piece beautifully combined action scenes with music, personal speeches, and non-verbal cues to bring everything together. The actors were extremely talented, and it showed through many different outlooks throughout the play.

  3. What is particularly interesting to examine in Leah Napolin’s play adaptation of “Yentl” is the character of Pesha. Pesha is introduced from the very beginning as a widow, whose husband died within the first year of marriage, which is a sign of bad luck. However, more than this, Pesha is seen in the town as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to running a business. She is referred to as more-or-less the breadwinner of her and Avigdoor’s marriage and even publicly scolds Avigdoor when he commits an error at the store. Also, when it comes to the night of their wedding, Pesha is not described as the tender and loving woman to Avigdoor that Hadass strived to achieve with Anshel; Pesha instead seemingly wishes to speed through sex and not bother with Avigdoor’s songs. This is of significance because Hadass was advised by other women of the town to give herself to Anshel in any way he wanted. It can be reasonably inferred then that Pesha, as a woman, was given similar advice. This dynamic Pesha is allowed to maintain in a very strict Jewish society with stringent gender norms intrigues me. After all, whether they are serving meals or being referred to as “footstools,” women are largely seen as servants to men in this play. However, Pesha seems to slightly break free from this as the more traditional role of men to provide for their families falls to her, as she runs a business and receives praise for her ability to make money.

    I wish to add a quick note here to say that Pesha definitely does not take on all the stereotypical gender roles of a man in her marriage to Avigdoor. After all, the way Avigdoor and Anshel sexually objectify Pesha’s breasts to compare them to large melons demonstrates they primarily see her for her physical appearance and not for her intelligence in running a business. Pesha is also never seen being allowed to participate in studying or religious practices. But, when compared to the roles of Hadass and the other minor female characters, we see that Pesha certainly takes more liberties as she navigates a society dominated by men and masculine desires.

    The question that remains then is why? One speculation is the fact that Pesha has already been married once before. In the time between her first and second marriages, Pesha may have had to provide for herself and consequently prove herself to be a successful businesswoman. Or, since Pesha grew up with a father who was a praised leather dealer, she might have inherited the “family gene” for business and society simply allows her to maintain this role. In any case, although minor, Pesha is a complicated character who, through her actions of the play, provokes much thought on gender roles in a religiously-charged culture.

    • While I had not considered it before, TJ brings up a very interesting argument regarding the character of Pesha. Pesha does seem to break the female norms of Jewish society in a separate way than Yentl, yet because her form of rebellion does not involve the study of sacred texts – as prohibited by Jewish law – she is accepted for taking on more masculine characteristics. Instead of being persecuted for her more “masculine” qualities, she is, as TJ mentions, revered for her ability to run a business and bring home the bacon (figuratively, of course). My speculation as to why Pesha is more accepted into the folds of society is somewhat a contradiction. Perhaps Pesha is accepted because she, in lieu of fulfilling more feminine qualities, fulfills the other highly-valued characteristic of being economically-savvy alongside maintaining her obligations to get married (once, twice…) and serve her husband by making money for the family. This seems to somewhat align with Yentl as well, as Yentl studies the Talmud in lieu of feminine pursuits, therefore fulfilling the highly-valued characteristic of being a Jewish scholar. The outlier of Yentl’s case, beyond her physical transformation, then must be that she denies her female “responsibilities” of marriage to a man and the resulting obligation to live to serve him. If this is the case, is it the intention of their respective actions, Pesha’s and Yentl’s, that determine why they are accepted or denied by society? Perhaps because Pesha supposedly takes on masculinity with the end goal to serve her husband, she then is granted clemency for rejecting some female norms.

      • timothy and laynevdb–

        It is interesting that while Peshe and Yentl/Anshel both traverse the feminine/masculine world, society accepts Peshe but not Yentl/Anshel–yet the author/playwright clearly want us as the audience to accept Yentl/Anshel and not Peshe. Peshe is portrayed as ugly, mean, brutal, and un-loving. None of us walked away from that production liking Peshe, no matter how good of a business-person she is. Yentl is an oddball, but one the audience can sympathize with. Yentl is kind and un-offending, and most everyone can relate to her–women can relate to her, men can relate to her.
        It’s clear to me why they need to make Peshe an unlikeable character. But why, in such a feminist under-toned story, did they make her dislikable due to her masculine qualities? Is the character of Peshe contradictory to the overall theme of the play?

  4. For me, Yentl is a testament to strength.

    What strikes me the most is her ability to persevere alone in a society that cannot begin to understand her inner conflicts. Even as these conflicts consume her, she is able to realize her dream – to learn unrestricted by gender roles. Her strength and passion for learning allows her to do this without family, a partner, or a community. After the death of her father, Yentl is left with no form of support and is filled to the brim with uncertainty of who she is. However, she is certain of what she wants and succeeds in getting it.

    I also think Yentl teaches us something important about marriage. As we touched on during discussion, this was a period where marriage was a men’s only avenue to sex, and marriages were assessed like business transactions. Yentl did not marry for these reasons; she married for love regardless of sex or gender or status or wealth. I sincerely appreciated her desire to be with someone regardless of societal norms. But did she try too hard to connect?

    I argue she was compensating for years of mental seclusion. Yentl was so deprived of societal approval and support that she latched on to everyone who showed concern for her. We began to question if she really loved Avigdor. I can’t blame her for her attachment to him. After all, he showed her compassion while the community could not.

    I believe the musicians and artists successfully worked in tandem to connote the intensity and impact of the community’s unsupportive behavior on Yentl. Towards the end of the production, the cast sang “we never think the sun will rise” with despair. As individuals would fall, the combined strength of the community would come behind each of them and raise them again in support. Yentl was not given this blessing. In this scene the lyrics expressed anguish while the blocking implied strength in the community. Contrast this with Yentl, alone, unsupported, effectively exiled, yet still able to find strength in her passion for learning. You go girl.

    • Kim,
      Great insights to the play. Your thoughts on the play being a testament to strength, what it says about marriage, and the role of the musicians in the production gave me a lot to think over. I wish to comment on your analysis of Yentl marrying for love. While in some ways I can believe that Yentl actually loves Hadass and that is the reason they marry, other factors in the play make me question this. For instance, Yentl mentions more than once, both in the play and the short story, that if “Anshel” marries Hadass, then nobody else can have her, which benefits Anshel’s best friend, Avigdoor. So, it’s very possible that Yentl marries Hadass simply to help her friend, which in turn may answer your question as to whether Yentl is trying too hard to connect (seemingly yes). Furthermore, Yentl can also be quoted in the play in an aside to the audience the town will feel like fools after they realize they have unknowingly been treating a woman like a man for so long. This treatment includes Yentl’s marriage to Hadass as we can see community members pressuring Anshel to marry sooner rather than later. Therefore, it can be reasonably inferred that Hadass is just a part of Yentl’s plan to show just how inane the gender norms are in Jewish culture at the time. Now, this is not to say the authenticity of Yentl and Hadass’s relationship doesn’t develop after the wedding, but these factors makes me question Yentl’s initial motivation as Anshel to marry.

    • Kim,
      I agree with your thoughts on Yentl and I personally believe that she tried too hard to connect with Hadass. I think Yentl wanted a connection with Hadass, similar to the one Avigdor had with her. However, because Yentl’s main focus was on the Torah, she was unable to make room in her heart and make that lasting connection with Hadass. I also think it was obvious that a connection did not exist between them when Yentl tried to study with Hadass, but Hadass showed no interest in learning, with was Yentl’s passion. Finally, I like what you said when you talked about the friendship between Yentl and Avigdor. I did not realize that Avigdor was the first person who tried to have a conversation with Yentl, and she immediately latched onto him and his way of life.

  5. After reading the short story, I had fairly low expectations for this play. The ending was sad, there wasn’t much dialogue, and the writing didn’t hold my attention. Thus, I was pretty surprised to hear that this play was going to be a musical. Much to my delight, this showing of Yentl went above and beyond my expectations. Unlike the short story, the play was full of humor! There were Jewish scholars dancing seductively on poles, Avigdor exposes himself to Anshel (unaware that she is actually a woman), and there’s even a song about Jonathan and David as lovers – “they were really close, if you know what I mean.” I hardly noticed that this play was a musical because the songs blended in so well with the acting. That may be because many of them were very humorous, such as “Jonathan and David,” “I Hate Girl Things,” or the one simply titled “Oh Shit.” I think these humorous bits really lightened up the sad reality of the play’s story, which centers on the idea that there are certain rules or norms in society that we must live by (in this case, a Jewish woman must be a good wife and is forbidden from studying Torah), and if we are unable to accept these roles then we must essentially change who we are entirely.
    I really enjoyed being able to hear the actors’ commentary and some different perspectives from the audience during the discussion after the play. One thing that stood out to me that someone from the audience picked up on was that the Hebrew in this performance was spoken differently than is commonly heard today, because I never would have noticed that, although I can’t remember the exact region where one of the actors said it originated from. Another interesting thing that the actors brought up was that the Hebrew word for God, “Adonai,” was not used in this play because it is traditionally only used during Jewish prayer, so instead they used the word “HaShem,” a more conversational term for God in Hebrew which translates to “The Name.” This reminded me of the play we just read, “G-d’s Honest Truth,” because that script describes how some religious people don’t even spell out the name God in English because “how can you contain it? It’s bigger than any of us can write,” (page 24). What made me really appreciate the show, both in terms of the performance as well as the traditional story, was later discovering the little details like this that I didn’t pick up on while watching the play.

  6. I really enjoyed this production of Yentl. I thought that the more modern take on the music helped to convey Yentl’s story in a very entertaining and relatable way. Although Yentl was essentially lying to everyone, I couldn’t help but to be on her side. It’s interesting to think about how her life would’ve played out if she were born in our time. She could’ve been free to pursue her studies and fall in love with whomever she chose, without having to pretend to be a man and live a huge lie.
    One of my favorite things about the play other than the music and the incredibly talented actors was the set. I thought the fact that the set looked like a giant book and portrayed a library not only played into Yentl’s love of knowledge but also made it seem like we were looking into the book of her mind and hearing the story from her point of view.
    I think that Yentl is such a compelling character because although she so strongly loves and cares for the other characters, she always stands up for what she believes is right. For example, when the men are saying a prayer for her father and Yentl chimes in behind them she shows that she believes that she deserves the honor of saying a prayer for her father, even though she is a woman. Yentl knows that her brain is just as good as a mans, which is pretty inspiring for the time period she lives in. I see Yentl as a feminist but also as someone who just wants to be given some respect. She is clearly a good person, or so many people would not have fallen in love with Anschel. It’s very interesting how as a woman, Yentl is undesired, but as Anschel all of her same qualities make her loved an adored.

    • Hi Carolyn –

      I agree with you that if Yentl had been born in a different time she would have been free to pursue her true loves without the societal constraints. This play is amazing because it really makes us question gender roles in the past as well as today. It seems to me that in some ways we’re still binding our women to certain standard of beauty and work.

      I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much time and money women spend on makeup, hair products, and clothing. Granted, some of this is for our own self-confidence, but by and large it’s a byproduct of male expectations and big business. Even in the working world women are still subject to lower pay than men. “I hate girl things” summed up a lot of these issues well, and I suppose we should just remember that as many strives as we’ve made since Yentl’s time, there’s still more to be done.

    • Carolyn,
      I thought what you pointed out about Yentl is undesired but Anschel with the same qualities is loved and adored was very interesting and got me thinking about the dynamics of Avigdor and Anschel’s relationship. Something that I noticed in the story, that I’m still not entirely sure carried over to the play, was that Avigdor couldn’t put together that Yentl as a women possessed the qualities that attracted him intellectually for Anschel. I believe there’s a scene in the story and the play where Avigdor is frustrated and confused because Yentl has the intellect and the wit that he finds so compelling and exciting in Anschel but he simply cannot comprehend that these qualities can be found in a woman. He offers marriage to Yentl because he knows there has been an underlying attraction between them throughout their whole friendship but he still can’t see that, as his wife, Yentl would still maintain her outspoken and challenging relationship with him and wouldn’t become a silent housewife preoccupied with busy work. I saw this scene as a prime example of your point of Yentl being undesired but Anschel is one of the more desired men in the village.

    • Hello Carolyn!

      I completely agree with you that Yentl is a feminist and quite a revolutionary if I may add. I just wanted to point out how Napolin and Singer set Hadass and Yentl as character foils. Earlier in the play, Yentl’s father and the Jewish scholars stated the reason why women can’t be scholars is because they have bigger priorities in the kitchen and don’t have the ability to learn the books. This idea is exactly what Yentl fights against and tries so hard to dispute. However, Hadass fits the mold of the stereotypical Jewish woman which really truly disappoints Yentl.

    • Carolyn, your analysis of the music and set is really interesting. I too found that the music enlivened the story for me. The music in the movie adaptation was not nearly as fitting and important to the story as Jill Sobule’s. I think it helped draw me into the story a lot more. I also found it really interesting how the three women in the play sang for Yentl’s thoughts. This seemed to suggest that Yentl was not alone in her problems and struggle with the norms of such a strict, demanding society.

      The set was one of my favorite things about the play. The set comprised of books brought me into Yentl’s world, one full of the pursuit of knowledge and thought. Once I realized the importance of the set, I was more clearly able to understand Yentl’s struggle. As a student, I too understand how important it is to have the freedom to study and learn. I cannot begin to imagine how restricting Yentl’s situation as a student would feel. The set helped me to visual the effects of the restrictions placed on Yentl’s learning.

  7. The most striking aspect of Yentl was the movement within the script and on the set. Yentl, inherently, is a story of movement and transformation: a girl rejects societal norms and transforms into a boy to study and, therefore, changes the lives of those around her. Beyond Yentl’s literal movement from woman to man, Yentl also physically moves cities to take on her new identity, and a large part of the script seems dedicated to understanding the physical movement of the characters through various settings: Yentl’s original town, Avigdor’s town, the homes of various characters, within synagogues, on the road, etc. With that said, the movement within the performance of Yentl at Theater J struck me as both aligned and misaligned at various movements. First, the set at Theater J, composed of great books and a “black box” feel, where the audience seems to be peering within a book and watching the story unfold from within a boxed space, provides a quite stationary – and immovable – backdrop for the performance. On the one hand, I felt this approach fit the story as the audience never loses sight of the context of the story, which essentially occurs from Yentl’s perspective and, therefore, through her mind (which seems to always be in a book, anyways). Alongside this set, which did contain elements of movement as it staged various levels and utilized the entirety of the theater’s space through placing characters on the stairs next to the audience at various points, the props maintained a simplistic aesthetic as it consisted, mainly, of a set of two benches, a couple of chairs, and two tables that were reused to create beds, a bath, study tables, and dinner settings. These props, while minimalistic, were used in such a variety of ways that they themselves created a sense of movement as characters constantly moved them and interacted with them, dancing between, over, and under them. These props then became the creators of movement within a previously immovable backdrop.

    The question and use of movement led me to question the purpose of physical movement in a story that contains more metaphorical movement of its own. Should the story of Yentl move itself in a way? Does the story require movement that matches the storyline, say with a constantly changing set with various backdrops and diverse props, or does it function better as a story performed with minimal movement, allowing the story itself to be the primary element of movement? Yentl seemed to incorporate both of these elements, intentionally drawing attention to movement within a limited space, thus accenting its presence without overemphasizing its importance; however, within this model, times of excessive movement become over-pronounced or noticeable. Were there any moments where too little, or too much, movement drew your attention to certain elements of the play?

    • I liked reading about your insights on the “movement” throughout this play, because I haven’t heard anyone else use that word to describe it. It’s interesting that you say the stage was very stationary to you. I agree that the stage itself was stationary, but I don’t think that was an issue because (as you commented on) the actors were constantly moving around the stage. In addition, the set transitions between scenes seemed to flow very nicely as the characters were setting up and rearranging props. I think this was especially true because these transitions usually occurred while a character was still speaking, and so the “movement” in the background was, while noticeable, not too distracting. I did not think about this movement in relation to larger aspects of the play – Yentl’s movement from woman to man or her movement to different towns – so I appreciate that you brought up this connection.

  8. For me, the original story of Yentl was fairly simple, about a girl rebelling against her society in order to fulfill her most basic desire: to learn. It was a story about a faith and belief so strong that sinning and deceiving others was a small price to pay in order to practice. There was love, yes, and of course the obvious question about Yentl’s gender identity, but I felt that those were beside the point of the story.

    This production is being performed in a specific time and place, the here and now, that cannot be ignored. There are ‘ghosts’ of the short story, previous productions of the play, and even the cinematic version that inform each audience member’s perspective. There are also cultural ‘ghosts’ that alter the way we might otherwise interpret the production.

    And so, because of the here and now, the simple story of a girl following her heart to practice her faith turned into a musical production, filled with sub- (and not so sub) text about love, marriage, sexuality, and gender. This is a particularly great story to address these issues with because it is already known and is already popular. There’s no need to force the issue, simply because the source material presents it clearly enough.

    I thought this production did a great job of addressing these themes, not forcing them, for the most part. My issue stems from the musical aspect. Separately, the play and the music are great. I would happily enjoy one or the other. But for me, they just didn’t mesh well. I am all for juxtaposing modern music with a more traditional or dates set and story, but this particular juxtaposition didn’t sit well with me. At some points, I felt like I was trying to hard to understand what the music was saying to pay attention to what was actually happening. The transitions between straight acting and musical numbers just didn’t flow as well as I expected.

    • I never really thought about Yentl from this perspective and this is really insightful. Maybe Yentl then wasn’t so religious after all and wasn’t so concerned with community, if she sacrificed them all for her one and only objective: to learn.

      And I agree with you on the note of the evolution of the production and its adaptation to the here and the now, and what issues should be presented using the show’s popularity.

  9. The production of Yentl frankly surprised me in how engrossing it was. After reading the story, my expectations weren’t high, but the performance really captured me. At first it was the musical component, which brought a contemporary twist to the more traditional story line and made it easy to stay attentive. But the way the subject matter of the story ran a lot deeper seeing it produced rather than reading it. Elements of the production, such as singing “I hate girl things” and the kiss between Anshel and Avigdor brought up the questions of trans-gender identity and transient sexuality that had not been so universal in the reading. There are things that theater can do that can simply not be done in text, and a great example is one brought up in the discussion after the play, where the actress who played Haddas discussed the vulnerability that her nudity expressed during the bathing scene the night before her marriage. Aspects such as this give me an appreciation for the unique power of the theater to convey deeper messages.

    During the discussion after the production, the actors also talked a lot about how much effort they had put into the Hebrew and the Jewish traditions in this play. While I always appreciate attention to detail, I felt bad for how much of their effort was completely lost on me. I wouldn’t have known the difference if they had used any type of Hebrew, or the different words for God, or any marriage vow. The same goes for the musician who spoke to us about how much she had studied Jewish music in order to prepare for this play; I feel badly how her efforts did not make much of a difference in my overall experience of the play. However, it is this attention to detail by all the people who worked on this production that made it the high-quality and engrossing play that it was.

    • There was obviously a lot of detail put into this production that many of us probably didn’t tune into because we don’t have the cultural/religious background, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that you should feel bad for not getting it. I got the sense from some of the cast members and the audience members (since it was an audience question that brought this up) that the work that went into it wasn’t necessarily for us.

      The worked hard to be both authentic and respectful of Judaism, and I think it was a very personal thing for some of the actors. And I think that the audience members who do know the traditions and intricacies of the culture appreciated the work put into it. I think it added another layer of meaning for some people that we might not be able to understand, but is still a very powerful connection.

    • Sara I think that your comments are excellent and align with things that I thought. I also felt bad, in a sense, that the Hebrew and meanings did not convey anything for me. However, I felt worst about this aspect because of the audience members who stayed to do the after talk. In a way they slighted the production for using certain words that were not “true or authentic” to how Jews would say things now or when they are praying. Maybe I misunderstood the questions of the audience members who asked why they used certain words that were not typical or used a different dialect, but I felt like they were taking away from the play and the authenticity it was conveying by bringing awareness to Jewish culture without disrespecting it. Of course, because I do not have the background in Jewish culture this is all speculation, but I am glad we share disappointment.

  10. After reading Isaac Bashevis Singer short story, I was very excited to see the play version of Yentl, and after watching the cast perform, it was obvious that I had enjoyed the show, especially the music and dancing. The energy from the cast helped make the show memorable and it helped the dynamic of scenes that did not originally have much movement. I also really appreciated talking to the actors and musicians after the show. It was interesting to see their general views on the show and how they interpreted the script, as well as their thoughts on the music, dancing, and Jewish culture moments. The most memorable moment was hearing the clarinet player talk about her style of playing because she had put so much work into the music and she said she was still learning, which I would have never thought because of her incredible talent.

    Overall, I think the concept of the play works, once the audience realizes that Yentl’s true love was the Torah, not Avigdor or Hadass. Also, I think Sasha Olinick’s comment in the after show discussion is important to understanding the story. He said, “Yentl wasn’t born in the wrong body, she was born in the wrong time.” Yentl was born during a period of time where it was necessary for people to be married, and when women were not allowed to study the Torah. Unfortunately, all Yentl wanted to do was study the Torah, which is the reason she pretended to be a man in the first place. Then, I believe, Yentl only got married to Hadass was because she was feeling left out and lonely because Avigdor was getting married, and her companion was being taken away from her. I do not believe that she truly loved Hadass; otherwise she would have never chosen to get a divorce in the end, even with the pressure from society and Hadass’ parents. However, in the end I appreciated Yentl decision because it gave her two friends a chance to live out the lives they originally wanted.

    • I don’t necessarily think that Yentl was born in the wrong time. It is pioneers like her that birthed the feminist movement and I think that her bravado for the time period she was in was absolutely necessary for feminism today. I don’t know where the movement would be today if we didn’t have these early women who had to endure the enormous pressure of their time period to get us to where we are now. I also think that Yentl truly loved Hadass. She may not have been in love with her but she definitely loved her. I saw this love in the way Yentl tried to make the best decision for Hadass’s sake. She realized that Hadass would be much better off with Avigdoor, and she does all that she can to make that happen.

    • I agree that Yentl was not born in the wrong body, but in the wrong time. Meaning, Yentl’s struggle was not that she desired to have an entirely male identity, but that she had interests and dreams that, in the time period in which she was born, were deemed “inappropriate” for women. Thus, the story of Yentl is ultimately a story of fighting against institutions. Also, I think that I interpreted Yentl’s marriage to Hadass somewhat differently. While I definitely agree that Yentl married Hadass, in part, because of Avigdor, I am not sure if she did it just because she felt left out after Avigdor was married. Rather, I think that Yentl saw a marriage to Hadass as another way of fighting the institution, and perhaps as a way to rekindle a relationship with Avigdor. And in the end, her separation from Hadass was the means by which she could escape from the lies that she had told to the community while giving her friend, Avigdor, the love of his life.

  11. ‘Yentl’ was a play that caught my attention from the very opening. From the script to the impeccable acting to the magnificent set I was kept very engrossed in the play and highly satisfied. The main aspects of it that got my attention were the ideas of feminism throughout the play and the song choices.

    During the play, several sexist comments were made against women to portray the setting and Yentl’s conflict of the play better. I related to Yentl’s character so much because I believed in her values (in the beginning of the play). I was rooting for her in the audience when she defended female and human rights to her father and when she read prayers even though she was forbidden. I even applauded her when she ran away to study in a yeshiva. To me, she was a daring woman who broke the rules and fought for what she believed in. Since she didn’t let any sexist boundary define her and her future, I saw her as a sort of role model. Although, I didn’t agree with some her values and decisions later on in the play I still feel as though she seemed like a revolutionary figure for Jewish women of the time.

    Lastly, the song choice in the play intrigued me a great deal. The setting of play was in 19th century Poland but the music in the play was very modern day and resembled something you might hear in the radio. Although some might disagree with me, but I felt as though this modification was very pleasant and beneficial. Since this play was set back in the past, it was a bit hard to understand the implications of some actions and what was actually going on in the play. I feel that these modernized songs such as ‘Oh Sh-t’ and ‘I Hate Girl Things’ lightened the mood and made this play much easier to appreciate.

  12. As the story of Yentl unraveled, I found it very appropriate that she sets up the story for us by describing it as a revelation of the “divine androgyny of the soul.” I saw this theme in the unconditional love between Yentl, Avigdoor, and Hadass. This story explores the depth of love without the veil of gender and/or other physical qualities. We also see this divine androgyny of the soul with Yentl’s love for the Torah which in Yentl’s time is meant only for the men.This story of a young woman whose thirst for knowledge and whose love for the Torah supersedes any human institution meant to alienate her from the Torah. Yentl may not have been born in the wrong body but she was born in the wrong time. Or maybe she was born in the right time as the feminist movement had to have started somewhere with someone. Yentl’s father feeds into her love for the Torah by teaching her to read and study the Torah, but I found it interesting that he feeds her desires but then tries to suppress it. it was as though he was trying to control a wildfire he was feeding into. Yentl’s fight for what she loves and who she loves made me reflect on the question of what it is that I love enough to fight for. Yentl encourages internal reflection while forcing us to fully engage in the story that was happening externally.

    Yentl fought very hard for what she believed in, and that is why I found it unsatisfying that at the end of the play she leaves and never returns to face the consequences of her actions. I saw her as this fearless young woman who can take on any obstacle, and it was a little disappointing that she took the cowardly way out. I also found it very intriguing and a bit annoying that Avigdoor and Hadass forgave her so quickly. I felt like there should have been a little more rage than we saw.

    Overall the show was well done! The actors were great and the whole production was phenomenal. I loved the setting of the stage which reflects the inner workings of Yentl’s mind and also of the Jewish culture we were presented with which placed much value on scholarship, at least for men. The energy of the actors was contagious, and I thought that the modernity of the music scores bridged the time period of the story with our own time period. I interpreted it as a full expression of the timelessness of yentl’s struggle for gender equality.

    • Interesting reflection, Ann! While the quote on the divine androgyny of the soul really struck me, I failed to make the connection that you made between it and Yentl’s love for the Torah. It makes sense that this androgyny of the soul is what makes the Torah studying aspect of this spirituality something that goes well beyond gender. It calls to mind the interesting questions on gender and participation that many communities of faith continue to battle with even in contemporary times.

      I also find it interesting that you point out how the love in this story seems to transcend physicality as well. I do believe that physical attraction was present in the mix, but I see how their love explored the non- physical in more depth.

    • Ann, I like how you brought up an ideal of unconditional love. I think it’s interesting to think of Yentl’s actions as stemming from that sort of motivation. First, and most lastingly, as manifested in her love for studying the Talmud, and secondly, as it is exemplified by the Hadas -Avigdor-Yentl love triangle of sorts. In light of Yentl’s decision to leave Hadas and Avigdor behind, it’s worth questioning whether or not her love for them was really unconditional. I think it was one of the cast who suggested that perhaps she was ready to move on, or at least get over them, at some point in the future. More fundamentally, I thought it was interesting how Yentl makes an absolute decision on the gender of her soul based, at least apparently, on nothing more than the relative social circumstances in which she was born. It’s quite a statement to make based on nothing more than that, given that she was not bisexual, and one that I think was passed over very quickly in both the short story and play. The whole tragic situation seems to hinge on this moment that really isn’t considered very hard.

  13. When I first read the blurb on Yentl, I felt a sense of familiarity with the story. It seemed to be a story that I already knew, and a story that has been around in many variations. Conversely, Yentl, the play, delivered a twist that challenged my preconceived sense of familiarity with it. The twist was delivered through the foundational Jewish culture in the community, the interesting plot, the acting, and the many thematic layers of each component.

    The purposeful infusion with Jewish culture provided a strong cultural foundation for the play and its setting. These were the foremost areas in which I experienced the identity of the play as something that was not so familiar to me after all. Second to providing a foundation for the play’s identity, I found that the infusion with Jewish culture provided a foundation for Yentl’s identity as well, while being a source of some of her inner conflict. Yentl loves Judaism so much that she wants to participate fully in its practices through the study of the Torah, and she desires to continue to gain knowledge from it; however, she struggles with the fact that via the same culture and belief, she has been told that this knowledge is not for her. This also plays into Yentl’s position as a complex symbol of feminism throughout the story.

    “ Divine Androgyny of the soul.” This statement struck me right at the very beginning, and continued to influence my understanding of Yentl’s character and my analysis of the Avigdoor- Yentl- Hadas relationship. The love triangle was complex in a way that challenged definitions of happiness and the role gender plays in the identity of a relationship.

    Last but not least, the acting enhanced my connection to the story through the work done in transitioning. I liked seeing the cast move furniture, and I also liked the musical transitions. They both contributed to making the transitions interesting. I also really enjoyed the fluidity with which actors transitioned from interacting with the audience and with fellow actors on stage.

    • I really like that quote you chose to discuss, “Divine Androgyny of the soul” because I too noticed the language used to discuss Yentl a lot. I think this was a very unique instance where her androgyny was talked about in a positive way. Other vocabulary used to describe Yentl was along the lines of “monster” or “demon”. The confusion around the idea of androgyny is really represented in the mix of language used to discuss it, especially in the context of a 1930’s jewish community. Though the language in Yentl is much more extreme and not what would be used today, I think this difference of language reflects issues we still have of discussing androgyny. There is definitely a sort of dance done around the language of androgyny because the alternative pronouns that do not assign gender such as “zhe” or “zhim” have not necessarily caught on in popular culture.

  14. After having seen the movie adaptation of Yentl, I wondered how such a grand tale could fit onto just one stage. However, rather than confining Yentl’s story, Theatre J’s version enlivened it for me.

    After the first intermission, I found myself questioning what Yentl should do next, how she should act, whether she was doing the right thing, if such a challenge to traditional norms would be too much to live with, and if she was hurting others. In this interpretation of Yentl, I could feel the continuous, all-consuming confusion that Yentl was facing. This intimate, small space presented a whole new way to view the story. The movie production presented a much more ostentatious version of the story which, although interesting, did not convey as clearly a message to me.

    In this version, I more clearly understood the troubling nature of Yentl’s struggle. What makes Yentl an important story and what makes Yentl stand out as a character is not her feisty, rebellious attitude, but her intense personal struggle with divergence from norms and pursuit of a better life. Her cognitive dissonance is portrayed well and has a strong impact on the audience. While a rebellious character in strict social norms always makes for an interesting story, this one stands out because it shows not just Yentl’s rebellion but also her self-doubts.

    One of my favorite parts of the play is when Yentl attempts to read with the men after her father’s death. While she seems rebellious, she also appears hesitant. At the end of the play, we see a different Yentl. Yentl, again reading scripture in the final scene, appears much more calm and confident. While the ending leaves Yentl without friends and without family, I think we should imagine that Yentl is much better off than in the first parts of the play. Although she has not been accepted into her community, she appears to have accepted herself and her situation. I think this is one of the most relatable and important lessons in the play. Everyone, at some point in their life, must strive against various norms and limits in society. While it is vitally important to feel accepted and to feel comfortable in society and in various other groups, there is also a necessity to feel comfortable with discovering one’s true self when it is important. If one cannot feel proud arguing against certain norms and rules, one cannot successfully influence change. Yentl is an outstanding example of this important principle.

    • Gabbie, I found the moment when Yentl attempts to pray with the men for her father. It was a scene that set the tone for the audience in terms of what we can expect from her. This scene was a good instance where having the second floor for scenery came in handy. She began to say the prayer up on the second level which I represented the power that her spirit had over the tradition the men were attempting to have her adhere to. I was surprised the scene did not end with more turmoil, however. I expected the men to physically remover her rather than walk out. It was admirable so early on to witness the strength Yentl has ealry on.

  15. “Yentl” by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer is a fascinating story that explores contemporary topics in a very traditional context, which crates a fascinating juxtaposition. Yentl’s love for the Jewish faith is thrust upon the audience the moment they enter Theatre J’s production because of the incredible scenery. Robbie Hayes, Set Designer for the show, created a beautiful atmosphere that transports the audience to a world of knowledge, wisdom and tradition. Because the set was had two levels it created the opportunity for the cast to dance, sing, and play instruments on two different levels which added a new dimension to the musical that kept the audience visually engaged throughout the performance. Another dimension that enhanced the production and generated several instances where I wish I could take a picture, was the lighting.

    The ending of the musical was atypical. I felt like Yentl was a troubled soul who supposedly ended up finding solace in knowledge. It seemed contradictory that though she had devout love for her faith, she actively broke many of the traditions and commandment that came along with it. I appreciated her ability to offer new perspective and feel like Yentl as a production makes a social commentary on that traditional institutions need to create a space for new insight into old ways of thinking.

    I believe the production did a great job of getting the message of the musical across. The original music composed was lovely and the musical numbers added some whimsy to the play. However, I felt like the original lyrics left much to be desired. The actors and actresses did a lovely job in their roles, particularly Shayna Blass who played Yentl and Anshel. She has a lovely voice and made me sympathize with Yentl’s plight through her performance.

    Overall, Theatre J did a terrific job bringing together a classic and timeless story. I think this story is important for younger audiences to watch because of the lessons we learn about perseverance and societal norms.

    • Juan,

      I find your commentary on the ending of “Yentl” and her struggles with her faith quite interesting. Yentl was deeply committed to her studies and adherence to the Jewish faith, and yet the very foundation of those studies and commitment rested on a violation of Jewish law. In a play about breaking down barriers and blazing new trails, nothing spoke more to that than her observation of the Jewish faith. As such, I agree wholeheartedly with your insight regarding old ways of thinking. With developing societies come critical turning points, and “Yentl” served to spark new interpretations and progress in the face of long standing tradition.

  16. Throughout the entire play, I was questioning what the objective of each characters were and ultimately what the objective of the play was. This production really did encompass many layers of emotions and themes. However, I seriously question what the ultimate objective is. There were many dichotomies in which the modern lyrics did not correspond to the actual context of the show. While I enjoyed the musical aspect of the show, it made me think more about what a flow should look like in a show and what the show tried to achieve by being in A) a musical form B) the mismatch of it all.

    Because there are so many themes and emotions the show tried to encapsulate in this modern-twist musical, I wonder if a simpler set design would have served a better purpose in delivering the core messages to its audience, just like in the original script. I also believe that a simpler set design would have made the audience more drawn to the characters, in that because Yentl was questioning her gender – or at least in this show – because Yentl was struggling to see true self in her own institution and religion, I think the complete white background that the actors briefly mentioned after the show, would have achieved a greater effect for the audience to really engross in Yentl’s character development.

    Overall, I very much enjoyed the show and I very much appreciated the experience we had after the show, being able to talk to the guest professor, the actors, and the musicians.

  17. I was especially excited and interested to see the live performance of Yentl at Theater J after reading the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. In the short story, Singer does a beautiful job of creating characters that are complicated, nuanced and intertwined in each other’s lives. Thus, I was interested to see how the musical would adopt and present these characters as its own. And I was not disappointed – not only did the show illustrate the complexity and depth of the characters as presented in the short story, but it managed to expand upon that complexity and depth as well. Moreover, I appreciated that the musical seemed to build further upon some of the characters that, in the book, were obviously important, but were not (in my opinion) explored sufficiently.

    The most notable example I can give is of the character, Hadass. In the story, we as readers know Hadass as Avigdor’s love, a past fiancee who he was unable to marry but still yearns for passionately. She is a woman that is in love with Avidgor, is for a time in love with Anshel, and is consequently in pain when both are taken from her life. However, after reading the short story, I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied with the lack-of-substance portrayal of Hadass that I was given. The musical, however, surprised and impressed me with a much more substantive version of Hadass. We, as audience members, were able to more fully understand the pain and fear that Hadass feels throughout much of the story. And not only the pain of losing Avigdor or Anshel, but also the pain of growing up, having to be married too soon, and the anxiety of trying to live up to the expectations that society has for everyone. Hadass’ bath scene illustrated this vulnerability, anxiety and sadness perfectly. We are able to understand Hadass more fully as she expresses to her mother and the other women her worries and fears, and as she does we are able to more fully relate to her as well. Finally, with Theater J’s version, I felt that Hadass’ character was given the depth and complexity it deserved. The show demonstrated that Yentl’s fight against institutions is not the only struggle within the story – each character is dealing with her own unique struggle, and every struggle offers its own lessons to be learned from the audience.

  18. During the first few opening scenes of this play, I was a bit wary of where Yentl’s journey was heading. I was hopeful that her fight and drive to study would raise the questions regarding identity, expectations, and responsibilities that it should. And to be honest, the questions simply were not raised in the beginning of the play. Yentl’s journey seemed to be more of a personal quest after her father’s death to prove something to the larger community. The basic questions of a Jewish woman’s role in the community and her responsibilities were raised, but not necessarily answered or explored. As such, I was not optimistic for the rest of the play. However, I was quickly proven wrong.

    Yentl’s journey became about so much more than just fulfilling her personal goal or proving her abilities. Instead of simply heeding her father’s remarks about a soul born in the wrong body, Yentl set about redefining what it means to be a woman, a man, and a person of faith. Yentl became immersed in her studies, and subsequently immersed in the community. Her relationship with Avigdor was quite predictable, but the twists and turns kept us alert. Once Hadas was thrown into the mix, an extremely intriguing love triangle appeared and dominated the direction of the musical. Yentl’s presence in the lives of the former betrothed became a positive influence for all parties, as she challenged the barriers of Yeshiva and the strictly defined roles within 19th century Jewish communities. She was a testament to emerging new definitions of relationships and gender roles, even if Yentl, Avigdor, and Hadas were all pariahs at some point or another.

    • Stephen,

      Great insight, and I am glad that you touched upon the issue of institutions and the role they play. I totally agree with you that institutions dictate norms, values and customs, but not behaviors. It is interesting to see how the Jewish community has been able to move from a very patriarchal structure that has kept women away from participating in religious ceremonies and customs, to a community that has opened the doors to the participation of women, in religious ceremonies and even politics, Golda Meier. In addition I believe that for many times institutions and their norms restrict us from moving forward. As for the end, I believe that Yentl had a happy ending, in her own way of course, by pretending to be a male, she broke the norms, demonstrating her rebellious personality, in one way or the other, she was able to find what she always wanted, to be able to read the scriptures.

  19. The story of a struggling individual trying to fit into a group, society, or organization is as old as time. It has been done countless times and can even become tiresome and repetitive to see. However, Yentl does not fall into this category. This was a very original story that examined numerous social and political struggles within a unique perspective. Personally, because I myself am not Jewish, I thought I might struggle to identify with the characters. This was not the case though, and I found that there was an added benefit, in that I learned more about a culture I am unfamiliar with.

    Now, to delve deeper into the story and its significance, I turn to my political science background. When viewing the play, the biggest political thread that stood out to me was that of institutions. In politics, there are many large institutions that we as people interact with every day. Whether it’s a school, an organization we belong to, or our federal government or personal religion, we are always dealing with large institutions. As singular actors in the world, it can become frustrating at times because we often feel we cannot affect change. In the story, Yentl found that she did not fit within the confines of her religion. She loved the educational side of her faith, such as studying the Torah, but she was frustrated with her predetermined role, which limited her greatly. Consequently, she took extreme action to ensure that she could remain within the large institution of the Jewish faith while staying true to herself. People throughout time have gone through this struggle while trying to change the way in which the world works, and it is something people from all backgrounds can relate to. Now, to be honest, this may not have been the writer’s main intent, but the play was done in such a way as to bring in multiple perspectives and world views. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and it reminded me of how personal struggle has taken place within many contexts and times throughout history. Although the story did not necessarily end on a happy note, Yentl perfectly displayed the struggle necessary to affect change.

  20. I found Yentl thoroughly entertaining. I enjoyed the musical performances and I laughed a lot. I thought the vocals were very strong; I got chills whenever Amy McWilliams sang. Some of the songs I enjoyed for their comic relief, such as “In the Book of Samuel,” however others were just not to my taste. “I Hate Girl Things” had the feel of a punk rock girl band, and I thought it didn’t really fit in with the play.

    I found the plot to be unexpected and enticing. For the first half hour I was expecting an ending similar to that of Mulan, in which Yentl eventually marries Avigdor and they have a progressive and equitable marriage. However, I found Yentl’s conviction to stay “in between” to continue to study the Torah produced a much more nuanced conversation about gender identity and sexuality than I was expecting. Yentl went from pretending to be a boy, to living between genders.

    During the performance, I took notes of quotes that characters used to describe gender relations. On part I found particularly interesting was Yentl and Hadas’ wedding scene in which Yentl sat in a chair surrounded by men and Hadas sat across the room with the women. Each group was giving the wedding party advice about marriage. The men were joking around poking fun at what would happen in the wedding night. The women, however, were much more somber. They were telling Hadas how she must provide for her husband, do all that he asks, because Eve was made from Adam’s rib. I thought this scene gave an interesting juxtaposition of the life Yentl could have led versus the one she chose to lead. I talked a little bit about conviction before, and I think that was a big part of what Yentl represented to me. The wedding scene really solidifies her dedication to the ruse, I think that is when we see Yentl go from pretending to her identity really becoming “between”.

  21. I think that Yentl was an enjoyable, but fundamentally contradictory production. Based on a similarly named short story from the early 20th century, Yentl raises some interesting questions relating to gender, sexuality, and religious and cultural norms. It does not, however, try to answer any of these questions in a manner that is remotely satisfactory. In fact, Yentl falls short of even treating these questions with the seriousness that they deserve. We are left with a production that feels, after two and a half hours, as if it took place on the intellectual and maturity level of a high school student. Our male characters are portrayed as sexually repressed and immature to the nth degree. Likewise, our female characters are gossipy, sexually repressed, and either domestically overbearing or resigned to their tragic lot in life. Nowhere is there a deep character or a reasoned viewpoint to be found. Yentl the silent activist provides no higher standard of discourse than do the many proponents of traditional Jewish mores. This feeling of systemic immaturity is cemented by a gratuitous number of sex jokes, and highly creative musical numbers such as Oh Shit, I Hate Girl Things, and Jonathan and David. Entertainment aside, the primary virtue of Yentl, in both short story and play form, lies in its ability to provoke thought on a range of controversial issues. Its success, therefore, can be considered roughly commensurate with the degree to which it provokes worthwhile discussion of these questions. I think Yentl fails to do this as well as it could. Why? Ultimately, it has to do with the tone of the production. It is difficult to take a work seriously that fails to also take itself seriously. While it may be true that theater productions are held to a lower standard of political discourse than other forms of entertainment, I reject the idea that this is necessarily the case. Yentl fails to capitalize on the important questions it raises in a largely fresh and imaginative way. Because of this, it remains an enjoyable, but oddly limited production.

  22. Although Yentl took us back in time, in an era when women could not freely participate in ‘male only activities’, but we can argue that little has been done to achieve gender equality in patriarchal religions. Yentl is an example of what women can do in order to break those norms, and her love for knowledge is greater than social pressure that dictates the way women are supposed to behave, activities they have to perform and their role in society. Yentl was willing to sacrifice her love for Avigtor and even Hadass for what she has been in love for since little, her passion for the scriptures.

    In a story about learning, uncontrollable desire to better understand the world in which we live and the study of the facets of human behavior and goodness, the Jewish tradition, which could be any religion, because, essentially almost all religions go after those vital elements; Shayna Blass constructed a portentous and romantic drama, about the role of women in the past and the sacrifices to achieve equity rights, since knowledge was a precious gift that did not enjoy universal possession, and the audience was able to see how important was for Yentl to study the Talmud when she left everything behind to continue with her education.

    The cast did an excellent job at transferring the cultural elements and norms that are part of the original work to the audience, especially to those like me, who have little knowledge of the Jewish culture and traditions. However, it is interesting that despite the differences that may exist between traditions, cultures and customs, there are always universal values and elements that connect other creeds and groups, for instance respect for a superior figure, family bond, among others. I would like to thank the cast for having taken some of their time and share their experiences when mounting the play. It was interesting to hear some anecdotes, such as the use of ‘God’ and other religious elements the cast did an extraordinary job at not misusing some of those religious elements while maintaining the essence of the play.

  23. Yentl was brilliant. From the music, to the set design, to the blocking, and all of the wonderful acting in between. The characters were really brought to life onstage and fleshed out. The play took the audience through an entire stretch of emotions; rage, shock, laughter, sadness, and joy. One thing I really loved about Yentl was the message of challenging authority. I know it may be cliched to say that as a young college student, but Yentl’s courage in the face of her community, her religion, and her time period was wonderful to see. The songs that accompanied her empowerment and defiance were a wonderful bridge between the setting of 20th century Poland with 21st century Washington DC. Even though the themes of gender equality are still incredibly relevant today, the modern rock/jazz/blues music that accompanied the message tied everything together well. The music was definitely one of my favorite parts. I also really enjoyed the blocking of this production, specifically how the actors interacted with the props as they moved them about the stage. I have seen productions and been in shows in which moving props around the stage is done casually and quickly, drawing little attention and only for the purpose of setting the new scene. I the Theater J performance of Yentl though, the way the furniture was moved looked much more intentional and planned out. The actors didnt always use the fastest or easiest way to move the benches and tables. It was something that caught my eye that I never could find an answer for. There was one moment in particular when four men knelt down and then picked a table up with their shoulders and solemnly paraded it upstage, almost as if they were carrying a casket. These little details in the staging were intentional choices, but I don’t know what they were for.
    On a more theoretical level, the idea of breaking community, religious, and gender norms in Yentl was very obvious, but the fact that Yentl does all this out of love for her faith was unexpected. Normally, rebellion expressed this way is done to distance oneself from the organized religion that makes the rules, but in this case, Yentl did it to learn and draw closer to her faith, which was an interesting thought.

  24. I found the production of “Yentl: The Yashiva Boy” most fascinating. Naturally, I am seeing this performance from a perspective unique to me. I was not abreast of stage set or lightening, but I was absolutely engrossed by each character’s passionate portrayal of their individual struggle. I see the underlying theme as we choose to be blind to the truth, even when it glares at us in the face. I pose the question: is the truth, as portrayed by Yentl, actually a lie; even though, others chose not to accept the truth? Or is the external depictions of a lie, as portrayed by Yentl, the concealment of truth; even though, others have accepted the lie as truth?

    I think the theme of this play, from my perspective is powerful. I think we have all walked around with external depictions of a “lie” at one time or another because we want to mask what we really feel internally. Which poses another question in my mind: what is the truth? Yentl enacts what most people go through within the course of a lifetime: trying to figure out the very answer to this question. My interpretation of Yentl’s quest to study the Torrah is more about emotional solace and a clearer understanding of personal identity as an orphaned Jewish teen.

    I feel as if Yentl’s connection to the Torah is rooted in intimacy with her father. After all, Yentl is the first born child, and the “son” her father only wishes for secretly. Thus, Yentl learns “hiding” to enjoy the simple pleasures of an unconditional love from her father, who is now deceased. Everything familiar and comforting to this teen is in ruins. All she has left, in a meager attempt to make sense of her life, is the Torah.

    I wonder if Yentl read the passage of scripture with her father, where Jacob (the youngest son) deceives his aging father, Isaac, by placing goat skins over his smooth skin to inherit the blessing which is typically passed down to the eldest son. What I find most interesting is the fact that Yentl’s behavior in this particular play reinforces my argument regarding our choice to be blind to the truth because Isaac’s failing eyesight led him to believe the son entering his tent for a blessing sounded like Jacob, but easily fell for the deception after feeling the hairy goat skins tied to his youngest son’s arms. I immediately saw the parallelism between this biblical story and Yentl’s deception to gain what is “rightfully hers”, as a child of God.

    There were several opportunities for others to recognize Yentl’s internal conflict, but they chose to ignore the warning signs in plain sight. The example that sticks out most prominently in my mind is the scene with the tailor. Perhaps our common knowledge in the twenty-first century makes me aware that Anshel’s behavior is suspicious. but the obvious is that others saw the signs and chose to ignore in disbelief that anyone would defy God’s law.

    I argue that while the others have the “letter of the Law” rehearsed well; Yentl is the “spirit of the Law” that is taught by Jesus in the New Testament. We are instructed to “Love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves”. As the final song is sang by the others, I can hear Yentl quoting this very passage of scripture in a resilient tone. Her reading of the scripture drowns out the chorus behind her. I thought this was a powerful way to end the show because it demonstrates Yentl’s determined spirit to draw upon the emotional connection embedded deep within her to her father through the Torah.

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