New Yiddish Rep Presents CRAZY MESHUGE HURRICANE EARTHQUAKE
From June 19 to 23, New Yiddish Rep will present "Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake" by Amy Coleman, directed by Moshe Henderson, at The Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street, 8 fl. This six-character play (portrayed by four actors) is the story of an unlikely connection that develops between a middle aged non-religious Jewish woman and a young Hasidic man struggling with schizophrenia. Hired to be his caretaker, the woman attempts to give him the support he needs, but discovers that her agenda may have more to do with her own needs than his. The play offers important lessons on love and trust.
In the piece, a recently retired music teacher named Lenora Kline is looking for meaning in her life when she answers an ad on Craigslist for a job as a live-in caretaker for Yossi Schwartz, a schizophrenic young man from a strictly Orthodox background. Because of the stigma of mental illness, Yossi has been abandoned by his family and community and has been drifting in and out of hospitals until he meets Lenora. What emerges is a curious relationship between Jews from different worlds. Yossi has an openness of character and a surprising wit that make him easy to love and nurture. He is handsome, intuitive and funny; charming yet hopelessly psychotic. He is also scarred by having been abused by Orthodox men who knew they could get away with their crime because of the Hasidic community's reluctance to involve police or to air these problems publicly (plus, no one would believe an insane man's accusations). So Yossi has become a man without a voice to speak with about his pain. Ultimately Leonora discovers that in trying to heal Yossi, she has been actually trying to heal her relationship with her late father, who was also mentally ill, and in some way gain an understanding of her Jewish roots.
The play admirably paints the minds of paranoid schizophrenics and how they react to the world. Yossi's situation, while defined in terms of the Orthodox Jewish community, is actually a prism onto the universal problems of the mental health system, which lacks understanding of the disorders it treats and relies too heavily on drug therapies of-the-day. Patients are ostracized from their families, condemned to asylums or else locked out on the streets, while social workers are so overworked that they lose empathy. Yossi longs for a deep connection to his family, but his father has twelve other children and his main concern is to marry them off. Any known mental health issue in the family would stigmatize them. So Yossi must be exiled into protective care, where his condition is deceptively reported as mental retardation in order to qualify for higher reimbursements to his providers.
Yossi's case poses a hypothetical question to strict, old-world cultural communities: if you could let a mentally ill person leave the community and be much healthier, would you do it? Its premise would be unreasonable to them. Producer David Mandelbaum asserts, "The answer is not even on their radar. Their response would be, how could he be better by leaving the community?"
Lenora, for her part, has been looking for a raison d'etre after retiring from public school system. She is divorced and has no connections. When Yossi sings Jewish songs, it brings up memories for her of her grandfather singing them and kindles a desire in her to connect with his memory and his religiosity. In tiny moments like these, the two characters find connections. Ultimately, Lenora finds she can love this open young man in a way she has been unable to love before. She doesn't trust anybody in the world, yet Yossi almost trusts her. As their pasts collide, they both find they must flee from this deepening friendship.
The actors are Yoni Bronstein (as Yossi), Amy Coleman (as Lenora), Doriya Bolton and Thomas Vorsteg. Co-producer and costume designer is George Xenos. Stage manager and lighting designer is Allie Zenwirth.
Playwright/performer Amy Coleman, who was recently licensed as a social worker, credits Barrow Group playwriting classes for helping her achieve the structure to make this play work. She had previously written a few collaborations but this is her first serious play. She is co-founder, with David Mandelbaum, of New Yiddish Rep. Her performance career began with a hit cabaret show, "Face the Wall" by Brian Lasser, for which she was twice awarded Best Vocalist of the Year by Backstage. In regional theater, she appeared as Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar," the voice in "Little Shop of Horrors" and the Gypsy Queen in "Tommy." She played Janis Joplin in the original Off-Broadway production of "Beehive" at the Village Gate and starred as Vickie in "The Last Session." At La MaMa, she appeared with Andre de Shields in "Kiss Me When It's Over." She appeared at Theater for the New City with Jimmy Camicia's Hot Peaches and toured with the troupe internationally. For many years she collaborated with Italian composer Enzo Fillipelli.
During the late '90s into the 2000's, Coleman sang at the late, great Dan Lynch Blues Bar. With her husband David Mandelbaum, she founded the all-women blues band Sweet Potato, appearing as lead vocalist. She has appeared in New Yiddish Rep's productions of "Death Of A Salesman," "Awake and Sing" by Clifford Odetts and "Rhinoceros" by Eugene Ionesco. Her directing credits include "YoL Rokover Speaks to God," "Savage in Limbo," "The Vagina Monologues" and many cabaret acts. She is a voice, acting, and writing teacher.
Producer David Mandelbaum has been producing and acting in experimental theater in New York for over 35 years, working at La MaMa, Theater For The New City, The Common Basis Theater and numerous others. In 2007, he and Amy Coleman founded the New Yiddish Rep and premiered its first show, his adaptation of the Holocaust classic, "Yosl Rakover Speaks To G-d." This was soon followed by "The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum" and "The Big Bupkis: The Complete Gentile's Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville." Under Mandelbaum's leadership, the New Yiddish Rep has presented original films, concerts, performance art, and art exhibitions, and has workshopped and developed a string of significant adaptations of modern classics in Yiddish translation. He directed its Off-Broadway production of "Awake and Sing," appeared in its "Waiting for Godot," "Awake and Sing," "God of Vengeance" and produced "Rhicoceros" and its celebrated production of "Death of a Salesman."
New Yiddish Rep (www.newyiddishrep.org) is a developer of a wide array of Yiddish theater-related artistic activities. It offers modern treatments of the Yiddish classics and Yiddish interpretations of modern and post modern masterpieces in intimate venues and with easily readable supertitles. Its productions since its founding in 2008 include Yiddish renditions of "Rhinoceros," "God of Vengeance," "Awake and Sing," "Death of a Salesman" and "Waiting for Godot" as well as an abundance of plays originating in Yiddish. Led by David Mandelbaum and Amy Coleman, its aim is to carry the classical into the present, to develop new Yiddish-inspired works, and to investigate modern approaches to the vast Yiddish theater lexicon.
Artists of New Yiddish Rep are prominent in the Netflix Original mini-series "Unorthodox," which is currently in production in Germany starring Shira Haas ("The Zookeeper's Wife") as a young woman who leaves an arranged marriage in New York and sets out on her own to Berlin. Eli Rosen, the company's managing director who played Vladimir in the troupe's recent Yiddish adaptation of "Waiting for Godot," is translating and consulting the series on Jewish customs. Other company members, including Artistic Director David Mandelbaum, are appearing in supporting parts. The company conducts writing and acting workshops to help develop a future generation of Yiddish actors.