New Yiddish Rep Presents THE LABOR OF LIFE By Hanoch Levin

By: Dec. 19, 2019
New Yiddish Rep Presents THE LABOR OF LIFE  By Hanoch Levin

From January 17 to 26, 2020, New Yiddish Rep will present a Yiddish language version of "The Labor of Life" by Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin, translated by Eli Rosen, directed by Gera Sandler, at New Yiddish Rep's Cyrus and Rose Feldman Studio Theater, 315 W. 39 Street, 9th floor. This comedy, originally written in Hebrew, will be performed in Yiddish with projected English surtitles. It is a funny and very sad play of the missed opportunities, compromises and disillusionments demanded by the "labor of life." Originally presented at Israel's HaBima in June, 1989, it stands out among contemporary writings for its sardonic resonance to Israelis and Jews worldwide.

After 30 years of married life, in the middle of the night, Yona Popukh has decided to leave his wife, Leviva and start a new life before it's too late. Leviva protests that there is really nothing out there for him, that it would be indecent, and the that truth of his life is that he is "shoddy merchandise made of cheap stuff." Amid this argument enters Gunkel a bachelor friend, who comes for an aspirin for his headache but really craves the "warmth" of marriage--precisely what Yona is about to leave. When Gunkel departs, the couple resume their tumultuous argument alone and finally Yona resigns himself to his fate, that "there won't be anything more." He dies of a heart attack, leaving Leviva alone to carry on the labor of life.

The play amounts to a picture of all their life in less than an hour and a half. Levin laughs deeply at life through prototypical characters whose attributes--and even the onomatopoetic quality of their names--are original yet familiar. Yonah is the kind of coward who would decide to leave his marriage and then take 30 years to do it. He is like Jonah, who was sent to do a job in the Bible and ran away. Leviva is named for the dumpling served at Hannukah; she is the strength of the household and has an answer for everything. Gunkel is an oaf like the name sounds and an insistent pest to boot.

The sardonic, ironic, crazy plays of Hanoch Levin (1943-1999) won him a reputation as something of a national treasure in Israel, even though the plays are more universal than Israeli. His writing is characterized by powerful language and a Rabelaisian sense of humor. When you stop laughing in a Levin play, you often find you've just seen something extremely sad. A well-known popular song in Israel, "Checkmate," comes from his revue, "You and I and the Next War" (1968). Occasionally, his critiques of Israeli politics have run afoul of the military censors and been banned, among them "The Queen of the Bathtub," a satire from the 70's.

Levin was born in Tel Aviv in 1943 and began his artistic career as playwright, author and poet in the mid-1960's. His plays have been performed nearly every year in Israel, mainly in the national theater HaBima and The Cameri Theater. His body of work ranges from satirical cabarets (earning him something of a "Peck's bad boy" reputation) to bittersweet comedies, comic tragedies and reworkings of classical and biblical dramas. In his lifetime, Levin directed most of his Israeli productions himself. He also wrote several screenplays, radio plays, and collections of poetry and prose. His Israeli awards included the President's Prize and the Art Council Prize. His plays have been translated into six languages and performed in festivals throughout the world.

David Mandelbaum, Artistic Director of New Yiddish Rep, is certain that anyone who has seen "The Labor of Life" in the original Hebrew will agree that Yiddish lends it a humor and poignancy unique to mame-loshn. He cites Dan Friedman, executive editor of The Forward, who wrote: "[Levin's] friend Viteck Tracz always used to joke that Hanoch didn't write his plays, he just wrote them down in Hebrew from his mother's Yiddish."

Mandelbaum considers it an injustice that "the greatest playwright that Israel has produced, in a league with Becket and Pinter in his absurdist works and with Chekhov in his family dramas, is so unknown to the American Jewish community and the American theater community in general."

Mandelbaum is planning a Yiddish language production of Levin's "The Whore from Ohio" for February. A Yiddish language adaptation of "It Turns" by Yosef Mundy is also being planned for later in the Spring.

"The Labor of Life" will be acted by Gara Sandler as Yona, Ronit Asheri-Sandler as Leviva and David Mandelbaum as Gunkel. Translation of the projected surtitles is by New Yiddish Rep, as is all the production's design.

Translator Eli Rosen was born and raised in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, which he left to pursue life, liberty and a law degree. Now a recovering lawyer, he is Managing Director of New Yiddish Rep and translator of obscure tomes. He played Vladimir in New Yiddish Rep's recent Yiddish adaptation of "Waiting for Godot" and acted a solo show there, "A Khazn A Shiker (The Drunk Cantor)".

Gara Sandler (Director, Yona) is an actor, stage director, and TV personality who for twelve years has been a leading actor in Israel's Yiddishpiel theatre. He graduated from Israel's "Beit Zvi" School of Performing Arts in 1997 and performed at the Gesher Theatre in "Don Juan" by Molar and "The Last Devil" by Isaac Bashevis Singer. At New Yiddish Rep, he has appeared in "Making Stalin Laugh," "Rhinoceros" and "Awake and Sing." He has directed operas, dramatic plays and kids' shows and appeared in over thirty movies and series in Israel, Russia, and Poland including "Jellyfish" (winner of three awards at Cannes) and "A Tale of Love & Darkness," directed by Natalie Portman. He is seen in more than fifteen Israeli TV series including the four-season sitcom "Eighties." His voiceovers include the character Bloo in the "Foster House for Imaginary Friends" series and Dracula in the Hebrew version of Adam Sandler's cartoon "Hotel Transylvania."

Ronit Asheri-Sandler (Leviva) has appeared in previous New Yiddish Rep productions of "Awake and Sing!" and "The Labor of Life." In Tel Aviv's Yiddishpiel Theatre, she was awarded the Yiddishpiel Best Actress prize for her appearance as Anna Andreyevna in "Revizor" by N. Gogol. Other appearances there include three musicals and "Der Dibuk" by Sh. Ansky, " "Itzik Manger's Megile" by Itzik Manger, "Yiddishe Mame" by Yoni Eilat, "The Magician of Lublin" by Isaac Bashevis Singer, "Di Groyse Gevins" by Sholem Aleichem and a variety of other Yiddish classics. She plays Malka in the Netflix original mini-series "Unorthodox."

David Mandelbaum (Producer, Gunkel) 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 "The Whore from Ohio," and produced "Rhicoceros" and its celebrated production of "Death of a Salesman."

New Yiddish Rep ( 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.

Performances are 7:30 PM January 17, 18 ,19, 24, 25 and 26, 2020 at New Yiddish Rep's Cyrus and Rose Feldman Studio Theater, 315 W. 39 Street, 9th floor. Tickets are $25 and available at, 800-838-3006.

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