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Glenda Frank



“Hanoch Levin Squared.”
“The Labor of Life” and “The Whore from Ohio” by Hanoch Levin
P roduced by the New Yiddish Rep, the Theatre at 224 Waverly, NYC.
In alternating Yiddish and Hebrew, with English supertitles.
March 14-29, 2018.
There are 2 and 3 shows per day, usually at 3 PM, 6 PM, and 8 PM. Check the website for specifics. $25. For tickets and information, www.NewYiddishRep.org or call OvationTix at 866-811-4111.
By Glenda Frank

Gera Sandler, Eli Rosen and Ronit Asheri in "The Labor of Life"

“The Labor of Life,” directed by Ronit Muszkatblit, is delightful, a comic romp through existentialist angst. Levin stripped the play down to its core: a bedroom, a couple married for 30 years, and a male crisis. We don’t know if they have children, grandchildren, or another room in their house. The focus is laser fine. “Labor” opens with Yona Popoch (Gera Sandler, “Jellyfish”) upending the bed, tossing his sleeping wife, Leviva Popoch (Ronit Asheri-Sandler), on the floor. He has achieved nothing and needs to leave her. She – and we —are alarmed. This is funny and not funny, thanks for some really first rate performances. She cuddles in a chair to listen, to debate, to propose new activities, to keep him, comfort him, and show him how important he is to her. She will kill herself. They can study art. They can travel. She reacts to each idea as though it were fresh and new and we follow her lead. About halfway we begin to realize this is not his first panic attack. Her diversity is like the tales of Scheherazade. Into this 3 AM squabble enters a neighbor, Gunkel (Eli Rosen) with his own existential crisis. They have each other, he tells them, while he is alone so he needs their consolation. And if not their consolation, then the leather cap he lent Yona. Even as he mocks the men, Levin understands the fears that come in the pre-dawn when reason slips a gear.

David Mandelbaum and Vered Hankin in "The Whore From Ohio."

“The Whore from Ohio” is less successful. Director Michael Leibenluft couldn’t find the through line so the play moves in fits and starts, seeming to end then veering in a new direction. To celebrate his 70th birthday, Holbitter (David Mandelbaum) has been saving money for a prostitute. The problem is that he doesn’t offer her enough and finally when they reach an agreement, he can’t fulfill his wish. Enter his son, Hoimar (Eli Rosen), who argues that he should finish what his father began. Hoimar is a complainer and a slacker. The program describes Holbitter as a miser and we discover he has a cache of cash in his room, which the streetwalker easily cons out of him. It would take a very talented cast to make most of this funny – at least for an American audience.

Finally we get to the title character, the dream figure who will save both father and son. It is touching. Although the Whore from Ohio is rich and beautiful, she recognizes both father and son as men of worth. She offers them everything. What better figure to personify longing!

Both plays seem dated and written solely from a male perspective. But the moments of comic absurdity and the clever phrasing make this double bill worth visiting.

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