BWW Review: A BINTEL BRIEF at Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (Segal Centre)
Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary with A Bintel Brief, which loosely translated into English means "a bunch of letters". As the lights darken in The Segal Centre's studio space, we quickly learn of the mountain of letters from new Jewish immigrants to New York (circa early 20th Century) that were mailed to and published by the Yiddish Forward Newspaper's advice column. This musical, comprised of vignettes, takes us on a profound journey from Old World shtetls to New World neighbourhoods of tenements houses and sweatshops. The greenhorn experience is treated with respect; sometimes with raw candor, and other times vaudevillian humour as we see how elongated Jewish European last names get shortened to blend into America's melting pot.
Bintel features a strong ensemble cast of talented community performers, aged (approximately) seven to seventy, and accompanied onstage by a talented live band adeptly lead by Yiddish Theatre newcomer, Benjamin Kwong. The actors are under the refreshing and insightful direction of DWYT veteran performer and YAYA (Young Actors for Young Audiences) Director, Michelle Heisler. Heisler immerses the audience in this Jewish history lesson by setting this show in the round, with the players bouncing back and forth between the two main pieces of Elisabeth de Medeiros' clever "pop-up book" set. Although we've seen the DWYT cast with their aged valises, weathered scarves, and newsboy caps before, along with some reprised repertoire from prior Yiddish shows, Heisler's staging and Jonathan Patterson's choreography offer a refreshing new feel to a classic theatrical piece.
With the rising controversy over immigration and religious symbols in our province, A Bintel Brief couldn't be more appropriate. Heisler comments, "The transition from old world to new has seldom been smooth. I suspect that more recent immigrants to our nation would be hard-pressed not to find a common thread between these stories and their own."
Bintel's heartfelt message of empathy and shared values not only impacts audiences, but has touched its multigenerational cast by passing down these stories to new generations. Longtime DWYT member, Cheryl Blum, who shares the stage with her eight year-old daughter Mia, recounts "I explained to my daughter that these are stories of people coming to America for a better life. I wanted her to experience the thrill of performing and the love of doing it in a language that connects us to my grandparents and to our Jewish culture."
Abraham Schulman's A Bintel Brief will take you from from tears of sorrow to tears of laughter. A note of caution to non-Yiddish speakers: English and French supertitles are present but tend to move extremely quickly.
Performances continue Wednesday, October 17 and Thursday October 18 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, October 21- 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.Tickets range from $18 to $36 and are on sale at 514.739.7944, www.segalcentre.org, and 5170 chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine (Montreal). It's advisable to reserve in advance as some shows may be sold out.