BWW Review: YIDDISH WITH DICK AND JANE at 2017 KC Fringe Festival
As part of the 2017 KC Fringe, "Yiddish With Dick And Jane" is worth seeing at the Arts Asylum close to downtown. Although just about anyone can enjoy this one, it says something about age when one realizes his own education falls after the McGuffey Reader period and smack in the middle of "Reading with Dick and Jane" years.
"Dick and Jane" was my first grade reader at Armstrong School in Chicago along with their dog "Spot" and their cat "Fluffy." "See Dick run. See sister Jane fall. Etc." The same books were used at Armstrong from the Scott Foresman Company for generations.
This one act play is funny for just that silly memory, but here is the rest of the setup. In the early 20th Century, millions of eastern European Jews immigrated to America's cities. Many of these people spoke Yiddish; kind of a combination of German and Hebrew.
Beginning in the 1920's and continuing through the 1960's the "Dick and Jane series" taught millions of children to read and many more millions of their parents to speak English. It worked with big typefaces and lots of pictures.
Imagine now if Dick and Jane are grown up Jewish people. They have retained their learned, broken Yiddish/English speaking patterns (think Spanglish for Jews). Some of the words remain part of their every day vocabulary. Jane is now married to Stanley. They share a very large African American child named Priscilla. Their little sister Sally is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley complete with sandals. Jane and Stanley share typical suburban problems - like gay neighbors and straying wives and aging parents.
An off to the side of the stage narrator reads from one of the Dick and Jane books and half explains the Yiddish words that creep into the dialogue.
To this fascinating and amusing ethnic stew, add the genius of casting all apparently non- Jewish actors in the semi-Yiddish speaking roles. The mangling of the Yiddish pronunciations multiplies the joke by a factor of at least three.
This short 45 minute piece is well directed by Mathew McGaugh. The cast does great stage pictures and has mastered comic quick change. They make the most of their limited props. We always know what they are doing through just a hint of suggestion. It is enough for this purpose. Both Korey Childs and Sara Crow are excellent as the narrators.
A special shout out goes to Sara Crow as sister Sally. She has pretty great guts to play the hospital patient with the open back hospital gown. More importantly and impressively, the audience saw a reaction to every line and the thought process of what was going through her facial expression throughout the entire show. I will look forward to seeing her again.
"Yiddish with Dick and Jane" can still be viewed Thursday and Friday evening during 2017 Fringe at The Arts Asylum.