Theatre at UBC

A Dybbuk by S. Ansky adapted by Tony Kushner

Dates and Venue 27 March – 5 April 2008 (Preview 26 March) Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC Campus

Director David Savoy Original Adaptations and Songs Patrick Pennefather Sets Yulia Shtern Costumes Ariel Rivera Lighting Ian Giles Sound Jason Ho On Stage Music The Creaking Planks Stage Manager Cassandra Tattrie

Reviewer Jane Penistan

A Dybbuk is a dramatic legend retold by playwright S. Ansky, a nineteenth-century author and ethnographer committed to preserving Jewish folklore. This presentation is an updated adaptation of Joachim Neugroshel’s English translation by the American playwright Tony Kushner.

The play is a traditional story-telling, full of beliefs, doubts, and meditation. Essentially a love story where the young lovers are separated by the authority and moral misdemeanour of a father, the spirit of the denied and dead young man enters the mind of his beloved and controls her. The Chief Rabbi exorcises the offending spirit, but the girl is killed by this exercise so that the spirits of the two are united in death.

A tremendous amount of research has gone into this production. The director has explored the intricacies of the Jewish traditional legends and folk tales and set his play in a remote Polish settlement of the late nineteenth century, but has features prophetic of the holocaust to come in the costumes and engendered fear of the unknown future in the text's modernity. The set is part ancient synagogue and part open courtyard with Hebrew inscriptions and insignia.

According to the programme notes, Patrick Pennefather’s music for the background, singing, and dancing is derived from “existing Yiddish, Klezmer, and Hebrew music, prayers and chants.” This is played by a live ensemble on stage on a screened balcony.

The religious leaders wear traditional robes, while others of the cast wear timeless rural or student costumes, with the wealthy in European dress of the late-nineteenth century. The stranger in the character of the Messenger wears more modern clothes. The crowd of villagers all wear the yellow Star of David, foretelling what is to come.

The singing and dancing of the villagers ensemble and of the more prominent actors is beautifully sung and faultlessly danced, some of it with great speed and excitement. The lighting throughout is always mellow and often with the softness of candlelight, thus preserving the narrative and magic of the rituals of the religious and ordered life of the country folk.

David Savoy has directed his large cast with great taste and skill. Even with so spacious an area as the Frederic Wood provides, this numerous cast could make the stage look overcrowded and movement restricted, were it not for the intelligent and artistic blocking. As it is the pace is varied sometimes hectic, but never hurried, and the actors all work as a company in complete harmony and cooperation.

There are some outstanding performances here, which bodes well for several of the cast, who are in their final year and final performance at the University before graduation.

This is an outstanding production in its presentation of the script. None of the humour of the lines is lost or overplayed, while the amount of research into the intricacies of the Jewish ritual, discipline, and theology is obvious in the clear interpretation of the meaning of the dialogue for those unfamiliar with Judaisim.

Above all, through all the funny and clowning scenes and the serious and emotional ones, the mysticism and magic of this piece is never lost.

© 2008 Jane Penistan