Review: YENTL at Malthouse Theatre

At its heart, Yentl’s story transcends culture, country, and religion, as we the audience share one characters joy, heartache, bliss and pain, in discovering who they truly are.

By: Mar. 06, 2024
Review: YENTL at Malthouse Theatre
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Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s remarkable adaptation of Yentl has returned to Malthouse. Winner of four Green Room Awards after a stellar 2022 debut season, this production is a must see for those wanting a thought-provoking, and at times confronting exploration of how gender, sexuality, culture, and religion all collide together. 4.5 STARS
Set in 19th century Poland, Yentl tells the tale of a woman who disguises herself as a man, to be able to learn and study Jewish Orthodox religious law and doctrine, something forbidden for a woman to do. By Yentl transforming into the male persona of Anshel, she unknowingly unleashes a hornet’s nest of chaos!
For myself, the name Yentl, instantly strikes an image of Barbra Streisand singing “Papa, Can you Hear Me?” ….. in front of a candle. I am of course referring to the 1983 film musical, which Barbra Streisand not only starred in as the title role, but also directed, co-wrote and co-produced! Yet the story of Yentl began much earlier than Barbra Streisand’s film adaptation. This compelling character’s journey began life through Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s original Yiddish short story, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy. Written by Singer in the 1950’s and published in an English translation in 1962, it appears that Singer certainly was not a fan of the musical film adaptation of his short story, remarking when asked by the New York Times, on January 29th 1984, if he liked Streisand’s film adaptation …... “I am sorry to say I did not”.
Review: YENTL at Malthouse Theatre
Evelyn Krape & Amy Hack
Photo by Jeff Busby

Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s adaptation of Yentl appears much closer to Singer’s original story, which given when it was written, very bravely delves into how religion and culture can both influence and repress expression of gender and sexuality. As stated by Gary Abrahams in the Director’s Notes in the Show’s program, “Singer’s tale is dark – he writes of a world full of dybbuks, golems and ghosts…The team of co-writers and developers wanted to confront the complexities of this story head on and dive into its darkest corners, honouring the rich Yiddish traditions and ideas so prevalent in Singer’s work.”

Review: YENTL at Malthouse Theatre
Genevieve Kingsford & Amy Hack 
Photo by Jeff Busby

A dark, ghostly, post-apocalyptic theatrical environment was certainly created onstage through Dann Barber’s exceptional set and costume design, which was framed well by Rachel Burke’s lighting design. Russell Goldsmith’s sound design was also hauntingly beautiful. Amy Hack, Nicholas Jaquinot, Genevieve Kingsford, and Evelyn Krape fantastically brought the story’s characters to life, and were all equally strong. Amy Hack as Yentl provides an onstage vulnerability that is truly authentic.

As expected, Gary Abrahams’ direction is brilliant, and his exquisitely bilingual Yiddish-English adaptation of Yentl, which he co-wrote alongside the expertly talented Elise Esther Hearst and Galit Klas, is stunning. What perhaps is so clever about this adaptation of Yentl, is that while the creative team start the conversation around the feminist, gender, queer and trans themes expressed so eloquently in Singer’s story, they let you, as the audience, finish the sentence. At its heart, Yentl’s story transcends culture, country, and religion, as we the audience share one character’s joy, heartache, bliss and pain, in discovering who they truly are.

Yentl is playing at Malthouse Theatre, through to 17th March 2024.

Review: YENTL at Malthouse Theatre
Amy Hack 
Photo by Jeff Busby

Please note that Yentl does contain full frontal nudity, adult themes, loud sound, haze, and references to suicide


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