An affectionate musical look at an English Jewish family.
NY Theater Review By Joel Benjamin
The dowdy Soho Playhouse is fast becoming the downtown version of St. Luke’s Theatre, squeezing multiple productions into the upstairs playhouse and the downstairs Huron Room. The range of work is fascinating. Currently the Edinburgh Fringe Encores series is occupying a good deal of the space. One of these shows, Daniel Cainer’s Jewish Chronicles, takes us on a tour of his surprising English Jewish family, set to his own music.
Cainer is a charmer, a sweet teddy bear of a man with a heimish (homey, pleasant) personality. As he sat at his keyboard and sang about his large family tree, relating their journey from Eastern Europe to England, there was a twinkle in his eye when he sang the tales of the more dissolute members of his family tree like Rabbi Baruch, the lecherous cocaine addict who reportedly used his shofar (musical instrument made of a ram’s horn) as a bong! Then there was his “Aunt” Rae, a friend of the family who had an unkosher love for his grandfather Isaac. Their gentle affection lasted throughout their lives, despite the fact that Isaac was—unhappily—married to Sophie. They never got further than hand-holding under the table. Then there was his Aunt Naomi who was on the road to spinsterhood in 1950s London, but wound up with a surprising—and family-alienating—mate.
Cainer began chronicling his family after a secular life when he had what he called “a midlife kosher crisis” which made him yearn to be part of his clan. The Jewish Chronicles is the result. He is an enthusiastic storyteller. His music is derivative, bringing to mind everything from klezmer to Fiddler on the Roof, but his individual singing style and juicy language carry his message with wit and passion.
Although it helps to have some acquaintanceship with Jewish life styles, it isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this show. Those who know only American Jewish life will be fascinated by his descriptions of their English brethren and those goyim (non-Jews) in attendance—and there were a few—the human interest and individuality of the characters will resonate.
The Jewish Chronicles – through November 16, 2014
15 Vandam St. (between 6th Ave. & Varick St.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-691-1555 or www.sohoplayhouse.com
Running time: 80 minutes