Adaptation (Vimeo 100 min.)
God of Vengeance tells the story of a seemingly observant Jewish couple and their daughter Rivkeleh who live upstairs in their Lower East Side apartment during the Great Depression. Yankl and Soreh do their best to protect their only child from mixing with their bustling livelihood—a thriving ‘brothel’ business downstairs in the basement. Rivkeleh is at a marriageable age and plans for a future husband are being made. She is ensured an attractive dowry when her father commissions a Torah scroll, worth thousands, to be written just for her. Supposedly, the hand-written scroll is believed to protect her and keep her kosher. Meanwhile young Rivkeleh has fallen in love with Mankeh, one of his prostitutes and a tender relationship blossoms. Tensions mount and soon life upstairs and downstairs begin to entangle. As Yankl’s plans are threatened, he begins to unravel.
Leads: Roni Alperin (Yankl), Jill Eickmann (Soreh), Elena Faverio (Rivkeleh), Zissel Piazza (Mankeh), Simon Winheld-(Shlomo), Esther Mulligan (Hindl), Naomi Newman (Reb Eli), Josiah Prosser (A Scribe), Rebekah Kouy-Ghadosh (Basha), Frances Sedayao (Rayzel)
Ensemble: Linda Ayres-Frederick (Old Blind Woman), Heather Klein (The Chanteuse), Gilberto Melendez, Merle Nadlin, Leni Siegel, Randall Solomon, Denise Hingle
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Due to Covid-19 public restrictions, Yiddish Theatre Ensemble presents an online film/video performance for the Bay Area premiere of this provocative play, directed by Bruce Bierman. It features an English translation by Caraid O’Brien including Yiddish language and idioms. Although the original script was set in turn-of-the-20th century Poland, this production is set in New York’s Lower East Side circa 1930. Gorgeous digital set designs by Production Designer Jeremy Knight of West Edge Opera are inspired by photographs from New York’s Tenement Museum collection and period costumes by Wardrobe Consultant Suzanne Stassevich, formerly of San Francisco Opera, create the visual ambiance of the play. Klezmer musician David Rosenfeld is composing a rich sound score to enhance this evocative drama. Also behind the scenes are Assistant Director Karen Sellinger, Dramaturg Sarah Pizer-Bush consulting on Jewish practice, Sound Consultant Polo Talnir and Production/Media Consultants Nadav Hochman of Gray Area and Dorrit Geshuri, Chochmat HaLev; Production Assistant Pam Troy; Publicist Lisa Geduldig.
The production also coincides with the 40th Anniversary of Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, MA) and their 2021 Year of Translation. On January 10 the book center’s Editorial Director David Mazower gave an online lecture titled Becoming Sholem Asch illuminating his great grandfather’s life and literary legacy. Photos of past productions along with Yiddish theatre history complimented this outstanding presentation.
After the play’s Berlin opening in 1907, God of Vengeance had tremendous success throughout Europe and was translated into many languages. In New York, it was first seen on the Yiddish stages starring the great Dovid Kessler. The first English production opened in 1922 at the Provincetown Theater in Greenwich Village. In 1923, the English production opened at the Apollo Theater on 42nd Street. Soon after, the show was raided, closed down, and the actors arrested on obscenity charges due to the play’s unconventional themes and portrayals–including the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. The shocking details of the play were assailed by both the religious and cultural establishment.
The history of Asch and God of Vengeance was the inspiration for the 2015-2017 Tony award-winning Broadway production Indecent. Our Director, Bruce Bierman, served as Yiddish Dance Dramaturg for Indecent recently produced by the acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“To kick off our first season, we have chosen the towering 1906 classic God of Vengeance (Got Fun Nekome) by the prolific Yiddish writer Sholem Asch. We have brought together a great cast of actors from the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and Las Vegas who found innovative ways to create ensemble virtual theatre. Rehearsing and filming scenes on Zoom, the actors were never in the same room. Yet, the emotions and intimacy of this play transcended the screen. We’ll be offering this show for online viewing with a bold new interpretation as well. We look forward to sharing this production with you!”
— Laura Sheppard, Producer
“For over one hundred years this play has given voice to those of us on the fringes of traditional society. With its searing humanity, moral broken beauty and deep understanding of the ‘other’, this rarely performed gem of the Yiddish stage is shockingly relevant to our own violent and patriarchal system. Nearly a century after it was banned in the United States, we are elated to have many in our audience witness Asch’s play for the first time!”
— Bruce Bierman, Director
Yiddish Theatre Ensemble (YTE) is dedicated to producing the rich, rarely performed repertory of the past 150 years, as well as new works by living artists through performances, readings, lectures, and workshops. YTE strives to bring a contemporary approach and relevance to this legacy while staying true to the essence of the original scripts. Productions are in English and Yiddish with subtitles.
Laura Sheppard, producer and Bruce Bierman, director and co-artistic directors, have collaborated for more than a decade to create community-based productions in affiliation with fiscal sponsor KlezCalifornia. Their successes include the popular Yiddish musical Di Megileh of Itzik Manger, produced by the Yiddish Theater Collective (March 2014) and New Yiddish Theater (February 2015) as part of the Jewish Music Festival, as well as KlezCalifornia’s Cabaret by the Bay.
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