Not only have Amy Estes and Lenny Leibowitz taken on the mammoth challenge of starting up a new repertory company (MARVELL REP) which is now presenting four productions at the Abingdon Theatre on West 36th Street but they have chosen four challenging plays to mount. Not an easy task.
Nora by Ingmar Bergman. In the Shadow of the Glen by John Millington Synge. Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca and The Dybbuk by S. Ansky. All but the Synge plays have been translated – for better or for worse. And all four feature female protagonists. Women subjugated by the men and mores of their respective time periods.
BLOOD WEDDING is an odd play and an even odder choice for a fledgling company to stage – where natural events meet up with the moon, metaphoric songs, knives, lots of anger and angst.
Mr. Leibowitz has done his best to hold the piece together by framing it with an excellent flamenco guitarist (Mike Rosengarten) playing original music by Adam Knauss which adds appropriate and beautiful underscoring to many of the episodic scenes and scene changes in this ninety minute tragedy.
A tragedy that unfortunately has too many different acting styles on stage for its own good.
From the strong Medea like performance of Lorraine Serabian who is the very angry mother (a mother who hates the family of the woman that her only son has asked to marry as they murdered her husband and his brother) to the all too contemporary bridegroom (Nicolas Greco) to the beautiful naturalness and magnetic performance of the bride (Evgeniya Radilova) whose authentic accent only puts undo emphasis on the others who haven’t one.
The bride to be was in love with Leonardo (Hamish Allan-Headley) who has come back into her life as she is about to wed. He still loves her and they run off together which doesn’t lead to a happy ending for anyone. Especially his pregnant wife (Stephanie Lynne Mason) and their baby.
BLOOD WEDDING is a difficult piece to pull off and Marvell Rep hasn’t quite found their rhythm as a rep company yet. But they are just getting started and must be commended for their courage.
With THE DYBBUK, Lenny Leibowitz and his company of twenty two actors have hit their full stride with a powerful and mystical production of this play which deals with a pre-arranged wedding that goes awry. Never has so much been done with so little. It is an amazing accomplishment. It is compelling theatre at its best.
The stark and simple set (Tijana Bjelajac) works exceedingly well with the rearrangement of a table and benches and an upright cabinet where the Torah and Holy Scrolls are stored. The excellent lighting design by Nicholas Houfek adds to the overall mystical atmosphere. The staging by Mr. Leibowitz is fluid and cinematic and holds your attention throughout. He is aided by choreographer Gabrielle Orcha who has managed to make this small space explode with some fine dances – never making the stage appear to be overcrowded.
The costumes by Susan Nester in shades of grey black and white perfectly evoke the time and characters. Less is certainly more here.
You will be riveted by the story, the way it unfolds and the fine acting abilities of this new repertory company. The use of a highly original score by Adam Knauss played beautifully by Tareq Abuissa on Cello and Alex Spangher on Bass is spellbinding. How daring to use live musicians and how wonderfully they add to the piece.
Mr. Leibowitz makes some bold choices in all four productions. Here he has cast a woman (Loni Ackerman) as the messenger – empowering a woman in this world where men dominate is a daring choice that pays off. As if in a trance, as if channeling the messages that she is delivering Ms. Ackerman is stoic and in control as she delivers the words – almost omens of things to come – appearing as an other worldly figure that never intrudes but whose presence is always felt.
The strikingly beautiful and excellent actress Rachel Claire is Leye the daughter of Reb Sender (a fine Marc Geller) who is to be married to someone rich. Someone chosen over many others including the man that Leye truly loves – Khonnon (a superb Perri Yaniv). A man who falls dead upon hearing the news of her marriage and who returns to inhabit the body of Leye as a dybbuk, reclaiming her as his pre-destined bride.
All of the cast members should be mentioned for excellence. But I have to single out just a few. Jerry Matz, who adds just the right touch of humor to his roles, Barbara Spiegel as Leye’s granny, Ava Eisenson who always grabs your attention and the outstanding William Metzo as Reb Azrielke who attempts to rid the dybbuk from Leye.
Congratulation are due to one and all. The Dybbuk runs through April 3rd and you should make every effort to see it. Mazel tov, Marvell Rep!
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