A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
EgoPo’s ‘The Golem’BY: Steve Cohen 03.31.2012
EgoPo previously made its reputation by reviving classic theatrical works; here its ensemble has created a new play, albeit one based on old legends, amalgamating the cultural, spiritual and artistic history of Jewish life in Europe.
The Golem. EgoPo Classic Theater ensemble creation; directed by Brenna Geffers. Through April 15, 2012 at Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. (267) 273-1414 or www.egopo.org.
Protector of the JewsSTEVE COHEN
The golem was a mythical artificial creature, larger than life, who was summoned every few centuries whenever the Jews of Prague felt threatened. It was first concocted in the 14th Century by a rabbi in Prague, who created a golem from mud to save Jews who were being attacked for allegedly murdering Christian children and using their blood to make matzo.
It was revived in the 16th Century, when the Prague ghetto became a center of Jewish mysticism and the great Rabbi Judah Loew was credited with inventing a golem.
In the 19th Century, when Jews found themselves caught in the culture wars between the Czech-speaking middle class and the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian ruling class, new golem stories were invented as a source of comfort. In the early 20th Century, Jewish puppeteers in cafes and on the streets of Prague presented re-enactments of the legends.
The Golem, a world premiere by EgoPo Classic Theater, takes these separate golem stories and sets them in the early days of World War II, when the Nazis started transporting the Jews of Prague to “resettlement” in the East.
At the start of World War II, Prague’s Jewish community was one of Europe’s largest, accounting for almost one-fifth of the city’s population. In 1940 Jews were excluded from the movies and theaters, restricted to the back of the cars on Prague trams and expelled from schools. The Nazi occupiers then transported most of them to death camps in Poland.
Heda Kovaly, deported in 1941, described the chaotic scenes at an assembly scene:
“The inside of the hall was like a medieval madhouse. Several people who were seriously ill and had been brought there on stretchers died on the spot. There were babies and small children who cried incessantly and just beside my parents, a small fat bald man sat on his suitcase playing his violin as if none of the surrounding bedlam were any concern of his.” In such a medieval madhouse the Jews hungered for a protector more urgently than ever before.
EgoPo’s The Golem focuses on eight such deportees aboard a train— all terrified, some furious, some resentful and others in denial. They are disparate people, reflecting the diversity of Jewish life in Prague: a journalist-publisher, a professor, a musician and a puppeteer.
As the train carries them eastward, the Jews retell and even re-enact old stories about golems. Their wish is unspoken but clear: If only a new golem could arise to defend them now! Yet no preaching takes place; the story develops without affectation.
EgoPo previously made its reputation by reviving classic theatrical works; here its ensemble has created a new play, albeit one based on old legends. The Golem amalgamates the cultural, spiritual and artistic history of Jewish life in Europe, using theatrical forms ranging from klezmer to Czech puppetry to live action.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Most faces are relatively unfamiliar, although the experienced Dave Jadico and Ross Beschler reveal new facets of their talents. Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as the street performer, Josh Totora as a musician, Lorna Howley as the professor, Kevin Chick as a student, Sarah Schol as a secretary and Genevieve Perrier as an expectant mother were also superb.
Cast members operate marionette puppets (created by Martina Plag) and play and sing original music by Andrew Nelson, based on traditional European Jewish modes. The puppet show is a bit too long and slows down the play’s progress, but it’s cleverly executed and provides welcome laughs. A few Hebrew and Yiddish phrases reinforce a feeling of authenticity.
The transition between different golem stories could stand improvement, perhaps with the addition of a few explanatory phrases. In this department EgoPo could borrow a leaf from the family seders of my youth, led by men who married my mother’s many sisters.
The wrong tune?
After the meal, when impromptu singing of traditional songs erupted, Uncle Charley, descended from Lithuanians, would lead a song in an exuberant major key. Then Uncle Al, from Galicia, would say, “No. You’ve got it wrong; this is the right tune,” and he’d sing a different version of the same song— plaintive, slower, in a minor key. The Golem might benefit by adding some explicit language in which the storytellers compete the way my uncles did.
The last of the golem legends enacted in this play is, in fact, in a minor key. The golem becomes a destructive force that tries to protect people but winds up killing innocent bystanders, convincing its creator that the monster must be destroyed.
Abruptly, in the middle of a story, the train stops. The passengers have reached their destination, and the play has reached its stunning conclusion.
In light of the fact that the golem was created to protect the Jews during Passover, EgoPo is presenting seders before its performances Friday and Saturday (April 6 and 7). The intention is to tie together ancient Jewish stories with modern Jewish life. The seders also provide a chance for non-Jewish audience members to receive an introduction to Jewish culture, community and spirituality.
Respond to this Article