Yiddish Theatre Ensemble is producing Between Worlds, a new play based on the life and poetry of celebrated writer Irena Klepfisz. This production is inspired by Irena’s recently published book, Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971-2021 (Wesleyan University Press). The Jewish Book Council named Her Birth and Later Years a finalist for the Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Klepfisz was also honored by the Yiddish Book Center for the 2022 Year of Women in Yiddish.
Between Worlds is conceived and written by acclaimed actress Naomi Newman in collaboration with dramaturg Zack Rogow. This original theatre piece will be directed by YTE co-artistic director Bruce Bierman and created with an ensemble of four actors with Naomi Newman in the lead role. Collaborators also include percussionist Barbara Borden and Susanne DiVincenzo on cello and bass. Choreography by Frances Sedayao.
Weaving together a narrative storyline with Irena’s poetry, the play describes seminal moments in her life and her role as the “accountant” of a vanished world. The vignettes describe her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto and survival in war-torn Poland. After immigrating to New York, she tells of her struggles with a new language and the pull of the world she left in Eastern Europe. Irena reveals intimacies as she explores her passions as a lesbian, the pleasures of a life-long relationship, and the death of a loved one. Ever present are the haunting memories of her father—a martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
The play travels between two worlds: the poet’s present reflections, and the past. The Old Poet sits at her desk with her beloved typewriter as she taps out her poems. Her study spills over with treasured books, old photos and manuscripts. She speaks directly to the audience, inviting us into her world.
On stage the ghosts of Irena’s story come to life. The actors portray the characters through movement, gesture, and choral vocalization of the poems, accompanied by musicians performing an original score. The staging also includes vivid video backdrops and graphics by technical director/ production designer Jeremy Knight to animate Irena’s worlds and words
The live performances will be filmed and an online film production will be available for viewing on the YTE website and accessible for audiences beyond the Bay Area. In addition, YTE will plan a series of workshops to include scholars of Yiddish poetry, conversations with Irena Klepfisz, and audience talk-backs with actors and the production team.
Made possible, in part, by a CA$H Grant from Theatre Bay Area.