An artful online video adaptation of Sholem Asch’s groundbreaking
1906 Yiddish play (in English)… online
Translation: Caraid O’Brien/Translation Dramaturg: Aaron Beall
Video Adaptation and Direction: Bruce Bierman
Streaming from Sunday, May 2 thru Monday, May 31, 2021 (100 mins)
Tickets ($18 – $45): cityboxoffice.com
Media Contact: Lisa Geduldig
Berkeley, CA… After an acclaimed 3-day run in March online with over 1000 viewers from throughout the US (and Europe and Australia), Yiddish Theatre Ensemble’s artful online production of Sholem Asch’s groundbreaking 1906 Yiddish play God of Vengeance (Got Fun Nekome) returns to the screen (yours) for the entire month of May. The 3-day production was hailed by audiences as a Zoom masterpiece and a tour de force and touted by the press.
The video interpolation is so flawless that it’s hard to believe the cast was never in the same room together. — Elaine Elinson/48Hills.org
…first-rate digital set designs and costumes to match. – Emily S. Mendel/Berkeleyside
Bruce Bierman’s excellent direction of God of Vengeance retains a bit of the distinct style of the old Yiddish theater — a slightly exaggerated emotive method that milks the most out of the actors’ lines. — Emily S. Mendel/Berkeleyside
The Yiddish Theatre Ensemble (YTE) planned on presenting the English language translation of the 1906 controversial Yiddish play God of Vengeance (Got Fun Nekome) by Sholem Asch in September 2020 at a theater in Berkeley, California but had to halt production due to the pandemic. Dedicated to this endeavor, YTE devised an innovative approach to presenting theater during this unprecedented time. The play was mounted on Vimeo on March 20-23, 2021 as a video adaptation with actors from around the country and due to popular demand and audience and press rave reviews it returns to the screen from May 2-31. Due to COVID restrictions, the actors were rehearsed and filmed on Zoom in full character and costume from their respective locations. (The cast was never actually in the same room together).
The multi-cultural, multi-generational and diverse LGBTQ cast of 17 actors, many of whom had never spoken a word of Yiddish before, comes from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond (New York and Las Vegas) and includes nonagenarian veteran of stage, Naomi Newman, co-founder of The Traveling Jewish Theater. Local Treasure Naomi Newman: 90 Years Old and Still Acting
As the play has been re-set in New York’s Lower East Side during the Depression, digital set designs (or backdrops) were added creating the 1930’s atmosphere with a distinct graphic novel style. The sets, designed by Production Designer, Jeremy Knight, of West Edge Opera, are inspired by photographs courtesy of the Tenement Museum collection with period costumes coordinated by Costume/Wardrobe Consultant, Suzanne Stassevich, formerly of San Francisco Opera. The play is enhanced by an original score, by San Francisco Bay Area Klezmer musician, David Rosenfeld, anchoring the emotional voice of this evocative family drama.
This adaptation based on the English translation (but including some Yiddish language and idioms) by Caraid O’Brien stays close to the script with new interpretations of character portrayals and plot development. Themes explored include: issues of domestic violence, dignity and portrayal of sex workers, freedom of expression and acceptance of LGBTQ relationships. As with many of Asch’s plays, powerful female characters give voice and agency to women. The themes speak directly to the inequities of human and civil rights still being fought for today. The play is peppered with humor.
This production is part of the 40th Anniversary of the Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, MA), the nation’s acclaimed center for the preservation of Yiddish literature and culture and their Year of Translation. This production is fiscally sponsored by KlezCalifornia and supported in part by a Civic Arts Grant from the City of Berkeley.
BEHIND THE SCENES: FILMING GOD OF VENGEANCE OVER ZOOM:
God of Vengeance was filmed over a two-month period from October to December 2020 under the expert guidance of Jeremy Knight, Production Designer/ Editor/Technical Director. Before filming, the cast was sent inexpensive lighting kits and green screens. Filming was done with up to four computers recording actors from their respective homes. An actor’s image was “pinned” on the computer so it occupied the entire screen. Additionally, Gallery and Speaker Views of the session were recorded by Zoom. The Gallery View recording was used to produce “dailies”–and just like in Hollywood– viewed and edited by the production team. Post-production included three solid months of editing, captioning and sound synchronizing. When editing was nearly complete the final backgrounds were designed and installed. Background images were created using a program that analyzes images to create a painting from the extracted information in various styles. With this, YTE was able to use photographs of existing environments with picture elements from multiple sources to create artificial settings.
ABOUT THE PLAY:
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 bringing it closer to the American experience. 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 sacred 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 becomes entangled. As Yankl’s plans are threatened, he begins to unravel.
After the play’s opening in Berlin, God of Vengeance had tremendous success throughout Europe and was translated into many languages. Upon arriving in New York, it was first seen in Yiddish at the Provincetown Playhouse in the West Village. The 1923 production in English at the Apollo Theatre in New York was the first to portray a lesbian relationship in a sympathetic light and included the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. That production was assailed by members of the religious and cultural establishment and was charged with obscenity and shut down. The producer and company members were arrested and found guilty.
The history of Asch and this play was inspiration for the 2015-2017 Tony award-winning Broadway production Indecent which was also seen at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for which Director Bruce Bierman served as Yiddish Dance Dramaturge. This production only scratched the surface of the original play. Yiddish Theatre Ensemble would like audiences to experience the power of the characters and immediacy today. Yiddish Theatre Ensemble is particularly interested in Sholem Asch because he was the first playwright to incorporate modernity into his plays, mirroring 20th century life in cities and towns rather than focusing on Biblical stories or folk tales of the past.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT:
Sholem Asch (1880–1957). Although he penned several of his 18 plays, shorts stories and novels in the US on New York City’s Lower East Side and at his home in Staten Island, Asch wrote only in Yiddish. Asch is often mentioned in the same breath as other modern Yiddish fiction writers like Sholem Aleichem and I.L. Peretz. The Polish-born author and playwright is the first Yiddish writer to be widely translated into English and to gain worldwide renown, and to have a bestseller in English (The Nazarene). The star literary contributor of the Yiddish newspaper, The Forward (Forverts) from 1915-1940 was the most widely reported and caricatured writer in the Yiddish press from 1915-1950.
ABOUT YIDDISH THEATRE ENSEMBLE:
Laura Sheppard, Producer and Bruce Bierman, Director, have collaborated for twelve years to create community-based productions in affiliation with fiscal sponsor KlezCalifornia. Their collaborations include the popular Yiddish musical Di Megileh of Itzik Manger, produced as part of the Jewish Music Festival (2014, 2015), as well as KlezCalifornia’s Cabaret by the Bay. Yiddish Theatre Ensemble is dedicated to producing the rich, rarely performed repertory of the Yiddish theater as well as new works by living artists.
CAST/LEAD ACTORS ( See bios » )
The multi-cultural, multi-generational and diverse LGBTQ cast of 17 come from the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and Las Vegas and includes veteran of stage Naomi Newman, co-founder of the Traveling Jewish Theater. Due to COVID-19 restrictions actors were filmed in character and full costume from their homes on Zoom.
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
Linda Ayres-Frederick – Old Blind Woman | Heather Klein – The Chanteuse | Denise Hingle | Gilberto Melendez | Merle Nadlin | Leni Siegel | Randall Solomo
…a wonderful job of television zoom creativity…actually, one of the best I have seen — Joy Carlin, Theatre Director, Berkeley, CA
I loved watching it! The new Zoom approach was very creative and gave new life to this old play.
— Eliav Perez, Hadera, Israel
THE TRANSLATOR’S REVIEW:
The Yiddish Theatre Ensemble’s visually stunning production of my translation of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance is a pandemic masterpiece. Truly gorgeous.
— Caraid O’Brien, Translator, NY
WHAT: Yiddish Theatre Ensemble Presents… God of Vengeance. An artful online video adaptation of Sholem Asch’s 1906 Yiddish play (in English)
WHEN: Streaming from Sunday, May 2 through Monday, May 31
TIX: $18, $36, $45
$45 tickets include a “Talk Back” Conversation on Zoom with the production team and special guests on Sunday, May 23 at 4pm PDT
KlezCalifornia, Yiddish Book Center, Tenement Museum, Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco; Workers Circle/Arbeter Ring of Northern California; The Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union; Center for Jewish Studies – University of California, Berkeley; Kung Pao Kosher Comedy; Chochmat HaLev; Congregation Netivot Shalom; Humboldt Jewish Music & Culture Festival; Echidna Media; Department of German, University of California, Berkeley; Congregation Sha’ar Zahav of San Francisco, Let it Ripple Film Studio, Keshet, The Aquarian Minyan, Congress for Jewish Culture; Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience, UCLA; Mechanics’ Institute
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