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Syracuse Stage, Syracuse, NY
Wednesday, April 3 through Sunday, April 28, 2002
THE DYBBUK, playing at Syracuse Stage in a new adaptation from the Yiddish by translator Joachim Neugroschel, picks up steam in Act II. Unfortunately Act I bogs down in an excess of narrative exposition and non-dramatic explanation with very little action. Barbara Damashek, who conceived and directed the production, has put together a remarkable production team which gives the audience lots to look at, but it's not enough to hold our attention through the long first act.
Ursula Belden has designed a magical and imaginative set with a giant banner, a multitude of candles, mylar ceiling mirrors, and even a ritual bath downstage. I particularly liked the touch of upside down hanging candles for the Act II exorcism.
Dawn Chiang's lighting
enhances the air of mystery and Mimi Maxman's costumes are beautifully in period,
especially the shoes. Jonathan Herter's sound is, as usual, excellent. He has
a great ear for subtleties when dealing with birds and wind.
Ms. Damashek has very cleverly used several life-sized puppets to make up the minyan at the Rabbi's table. Michelle Sampson is given credit for her good work as the Puppet Artisan.
The casting is generally good, with a couple of exceptions. Bill Cohen just doesn't have either the presence or the vocal power to believably portray the Rabbi during the exorcism, especially when contrasted with Frank Anderson's strong performance as Rabbi Shimshin. Jonathan Farmer's cartoonish portrayal of the bridegroom may have been meant as comic relief. If so, it doesn't work.
On the other hand, Joseph Costa is very strong as Sender, Leah's father. Christina Apathy as the possessed Leah and Tommy Schrider as Khonen, the lost soul, play extremely well together, especially in the Act II scenes of demonic possession. Mark Alan Gordon is a constant mysterious looming presence as the Messenger.
Ms. Damashek also functioned as composer and musical director, and I was a bit taken aback by the men's two-part song in Act II. It sounded really good, but also really American. And why did the old lady have the only solo song? Its placement interrupting the Act II climax seemed odd.
On a more positive note, Ms. Damashek's staging takes full advantage of the scope offered by the set. Her interpretation of the demonic possession is wonderfully inventive and very well performed. The trial is effective and visually stunning. The onstage musicians are excellent, and I wish we could have seen more of them in Act I.
If Ms. Damashek and Mr. Neugroschel get rid of, and I quote from the script, "Symbols so deep nobody can understand them," and do some judicious cutting in Act I to keep things moving, they may have a viable version of this traditional folk-tale. In its present form, though, it's much as I overheard on the way out. Again I quote, "Well, I'm glad I saw it, but don't think I'd want to see it again."
On a scale of one
to five, the Syracuse Stage production of THE DYBBUK gets three and one-half
oranges. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.