Posts Tagged ‘Ashley Racov’

Review – Jew You Love Me – Jewish Cabaret Theatre at the Lion and Unicorn

July 29, 2018

The Jewish Cabaret Theater is a somewhat newish group, founded only 2016 (I unfortunately missed their last show, “Purim – Uncut!”). I had in fact misunderstood the topic of this show, Jew You Love Me, as I’d read a sentence in the press release wrong. “Gabi – a seemingly straight Jewish girl who ends up finding love in an unexpected partner, Ethan and Alon …” I honestly turned this around so that I thought this was about a straight girl who find love with two gay men, which is exactly the plot of A Home at the End of the World (but not Jewish). “Wow!” I thought. “A straight girl who decides to be with two gay guys and … all raise a kid together!” Since, again per the press release, the two guys were “a gay couple struggling with the concept of monogamy and hetero-normative love,” I thought it was great that they were reaching beyond the boundaries of same sex relationships, especially insofar as they do often censor bisexuality in partners (see Mike Bartlett’s Cock) and, as I know very well from the struggle of MY gay Jewish male friend, those waters can be especially difficult to navigate when you want to have children. So bingo, Ethan and Alon and Gabi as a trio … I thought this was SUCH an interesting plot for a musical I invited said gay Jewish male friend along with me to the show.

I can only imagine the writers of this show having a really good laugh at me. Let me tell you how the show ACTUALLY went. So, we’ve got a cafe in Golder’s Green, run by an adorable lesbian (Sam – Martha Pothen) who just happens to sing like Amy Winehouse, and we get to meet the other denizens of the cafe – Sam’s best friend Gabi (Ashley Racov), the adorable gay singer-songwriter Will (Jack Reitman), poet Ethan (Alex Ayliffe) and his wants-to-wander partner Alon (Ido Gonen), and finally the rather adorable aged couple Rachel (Batel Israel, not entirely convincing even with a silver wig) and Yakov (Josh Becker, rather jolly throughout). The show starts with many balls in the air – Sam has a crush on Gabi, Alon is pushing Ethan to open their relationship, and Rachel’s granddaughter Bracha (Tanya Trueman) has shown up from Israel with a chip on her shoulder and nothing nice to say about either the shiksa running the cafe or the gay men she sees being affectionate in it.

So … in the first act we get Gabi’s great comic song, “Swipe to the Right,” about the perils of Tinder, which winds up applying rather directly to Ethan and Alon … and Will!

But it’s when we finally get a moment alone with Bracha that the show, for me, moved to a higher plane. She came off as very uptight and unpleasant, choosing to not eat any food from Sam’s cafe and telling off the other people there for being ungodly. She’s newly arrived from Israel, and is very religiously conservative … not the kind of person we see represented much on the London stage. But as she sits outside, after being rejected by the other customers of the cafe, we get to hear her talk about how she sees the world, in the song, “Blessing,” which is mostly about her love for God and attempts to live a life that holds up to what he wants. Initially I was quite resistant to and uncomfortable with this song … I’m an atheist, and I don’t really enjoy listening to people sing about religion … but suddenly Bracha revealed something about herself that just flipped things right around.

I was reminded of a play I’d seen in New York, Indecent, about the controversy surrounding the 1923 Broadway debut of a play by Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch called God of Vengeance. Asch’s play was disturbing to the Jewish community in New York, because it portrayed Jewish people in a non-hagiographic way, as people with shortcomings and desires and conflicts; a reality much easier to hide from the goyim before the play was translated in English. The play toured in Europe AND in American without problem until it was shown in a language non-Yiddish Americans could understand; and when this happened, Jewish community leaders did not want it performed, and shut it down.

But the play showed to ME something I’d not known at all; that the Jewish community, the Yiddish speaking community of Europe, was rich enough to support its own theater, with touring groups and playwrights who wrote especially for it; this being just one elements that were lost to us when that great swathe of our friends and neighbors were systematically executed during World War II. And LOOK, here I was in London in 2018, and the community that I am not a part of but which lives side by side with me is doing their own theater, theater that represents THEM, and I am having this opportunity to get to learn about another culture (which exists in many different forms!) and other values and, look at Bracha, the same conflicts and heartaches that have been going on for centuries when you want to fit in, you want to do right, but you just can’t seem to live up to what is expected of you. And for Bracha, it was making her heart break. And in her, I could see the reincarnation of the female protagonists of God of Vengeance, and I wanted to hear her story and hear her speak for herself. I wanted to know what made her mom leave London behind; I wanted to know more. BANG it all came together for me and suddenly I was invested in what was going on.

Back in the rather more fluffy world of the cafe, Sam was struggling with Gabi (I’m unclear why they were not getting along), and Alon was wondering if he’d made a huge mistake in trying to change the terms of his relationship (in the great song “Falling Behind”). But zip and zest were coming from the Yakov and Rachel corner, which has to mark one of the few times I’ve ever seen an elderly couple with a healthy sexual relationship on stage. It was funny and it was a good time, and the idea that they were teaching the gay male trio a thing or two gave me a giggle.

In the end – and with no spoilers – I found myself somewhat overwhelmed by the many, many story lines, and wondering if perhaps some shortcuts had been taken to get us to the end in a reasonable amount of time when perhaps few stories more richly developed might have been a better choice. Still, I loved having the company turn its back on divisive hatred and face forward to the audience for a song that essentially said, we are you we are, and God accepts us, as if to say to all of London and the world, there really is no place for hatred of others … a message I feel we need to hear in times like these. It was a fun musical and a good (if sweaty) night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 27, 2018.)

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