From: The Riverside Press-Enterprise
Date: April 4, 2001
Author: Jim Trageser, Special to the Press-Enterprise
It’s a tale the Marx Brothers would have loved: An 18th-century European rabbi who is dying without a son to succeed him as leader of his ultra-Orthodox community uses his mystical powers to travel to the future in search of an heir. His ultimate choice? A portly, balding, gay — and very secular — typist for IBM.
If Yehuda Hyman’s “The Mad Dancers” sounds a bit odd, well, think about some of the story lines at the heart of the Marx Brothers’ — or even Woody Allen’s — movies. As the centerpiece of the San Diego Jewish Arts Festival, the world premiere of “Mad Dancers” at the San Diego Rep is firmly rooted in modern Jewish comedy. By turns dark and uplifting, it also mixes the absurd with the everyday. Or the absurd from the everyday.
Playwright Hyman — who also portrays the portly, balding, gay and secular Elliott Green — breathes a spirited life into his characters. While the outside world may not be able to see beyond the forelocks and black robes of the Hasidic community, Hyman delves into the very human joys of dance and song at the heart of their religious celebrations.
And in following the seven trials of prince-elect Elliott Green, the audience also gets a chance to immerse itself in Jewish mysticism, in the larger-than-life status given to a rebbe in some Orthodox communities.
Chaz Mena, who portrays one of the rebbe’s followers who also turns up in Satan’s restaurant as a waiter, gives a comedic introduction to the chicken dish worthy of Groucho himself. Jaye Austin-Williams does fine in multiple roles ranging from Elliott’s IBM boss, Brenda, as well as the deaf-mute gardener and the rebbe’s follower, Liebowitz.
In John Campion, Hyman has the perfect rebbe — Campion projects a leader who is charismatic, passionate, and able to carry his burden of leadership by leavening it with huge doses of humor.
But Hyman is also the perfect Elliott Green — a modern, narcissistic American worried only about his own happiness. He’s not particularly enamored of the tasks presented him by the rebbe, but when events spin out of his control, he does find new resources of strength and community he’d never imagined he possessed.