By Myra Chanin . . .
One of the best things about New York is that you can intend to perform a mitzvah, a commanded-by-God virtuous deed, by attending or streaming a performance of a play with a crazy title, i.e., Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake, in some way off-off Broadway theater like the Theater for a New City and leave two hours later stunned by an amazing performance that knocked your socks off. Although the New Yiddish Rep usually performs plays in Yiddish, this new, updated, completed version of Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake by group co-founder Amy Coleman, is written and performed in English.
Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake is not just the title but a description of the hero, Yossi (Andrew Hardigg), a paranoid-schizophrenic, bi-polar Hassidic young man who’d been molested and/or sodomized by respected elders of his community when he was in his teens. When he told Tateh, his father (a bearded Jonathan Dauberman) what occurred, instead of demanding justice for his son, Tateh accepts his Rabbi’s assurance that Hashem – God – will really punish the perp when He gets His hands on his soul in the world to come. Tateh also casts Yossi out of the family. In his defense, when Tateh tried to hustle public funds for the care of psychotic children like Yossi, but couldn’t, Tateh arranged to have Yossi labeled learning disabled, which supplied funds to pay for a dumpy apartment and a custodian with little training or skills. All Tateh required was Shlomo’s (Jacob S. Louchheim) willingness to stay with Yossi 24/7, feed him, make him swallow his meds and most important, keep him, the oldest of Tateh’s 13 children, away from the rest of the family.
The five-character play portrayed by four actors tells the story of an unlikely connection that develops between Lenora Klein (Amy Coleman) a middle aged non-religious Jewish woman and Yossi. She’s a recently retired music teacher looking for meaning in her life when she answers an ad on Craigslist for a job as a live-in caretaker for this young man from a strictly Orthodox background. Primarily because of the family’s discomfort about the boy’s sexual molestation by community elders, Yossi has been drifting in and out of hospitals and living with inadequate and untrained caregivers. When he meets Lenora, a curious relationship between two Jews of different sexes from different worlds takes place.
Yossi has an openness of character, an innocence and a surprising wit that make him easy for Leonora and us to care about. He is handsome, intuitive and funny; charming yet hopelessly psychotic. He is also scarred by his abusers getting away with their crimes because of the Hasidic community’s reluctance to involve police or to air these problems publicly. In addition, no one would believe the claims of an insane person, so Yossi has become a man without a voice and no one to speak to about his pain.
Ultimately Leonora discovers that in trying to heal Yossi, she’s actually been trying to heal her relationship with her late father, who also was mentally ill. In addition, she gains an understanding of her Jewish roots. Describing herself as Yossi’s advocate, she arranges a short, fruitless meeting between Yossi and Tateh in which the father of 13 children … so far … explains that he considers his responsibilities to his other 12 children more significant than anything he may owe Yossi.
Lenora invites Yossi to live with her. He refuses and is institutionalized. Three years later, when Lenora has become a Social Worker, Yossi calls to tell her he wants to live with her. The older, wiser, professional Lenora tells Yossi she’ll visit him, but never actually gets around to it.
Two additional characters include Lenora’s sister, Bettina (Kelly Waters), who babysits Yossi for Lenora and is also unaware of what’s required for the job, and the Social Worker (the bald Jonathan Dauberman), who is more concerned about Yossi’s unsigned HIPPA documents than how to make life better for him. Lenora may have had a noble plan and the best intentions, but she has plenty of other destructive urges to cope with, particularly with her slightly meshugga sister Brittany who is flirting with the idea of reuniting with the abusive husband she recently divorced.
Playwright Amy Coleman has written a compelling, disturbing, touching, memorable and utterly realistic drama with characters, troubling enough, that each one would be eligible to be huddled under the Crazy Meshugga Hurricane Earthquake spectrum/umbrella. Coleman’s credits range from co-producing New Yiddish Rep’s Drama Desk’s award-winning Yiddish Death of a Salesman to playing Janis Joplin in the original production of Beehive.
Andrew Hardigg supplied Yossi with an Asperger’s-ish kind of innocence and a surprising wit which made Yossi’s dismal existence worth caring about. Hardigg has a very impressive CV which includes his recent Columbia University MFA, stints at NYU Tisch & RADA, plus a writing degree from Cambridge. Keep an eye on him. I predict that any play he’s cast in will be worth seeing, if only for the pleasure of watching him perform.
Jonathan Dauberman, who plays both the bearded Tateh and the bald Social Worker, has also appeared in Uncle Vanya and Macbeth. He’ll soon be seen in the feature-length thriller Cut & Run as well as the star of thepremiering comedy web series, Untold Genius.
Jacob S. Louchheimis an award-winning actor, singer, and director, has also portrayed more likeable Tatehs in two versions of Ragtime. He’s a graduate of SITI Company’s conservatory program, trained in The Viewpoints and Suzuki Method and also holds degree in Drama Studies and Vocal Operatic Performance from SUNY Purchase.
Kelly Walters, a NYC based actor, studied with Stella Adler and has performed on the London Stage as Olivia in Twelfth Night and Hermione in Winter’s Tale.
Director David Mandelbaum has been producing, acting and directing in experimental theater in New York for over 40 years, including La MaMa, Theater for The New City, The Common Basis Theater. In 2007, he and Amy Coleman founded New Yiddish Rep. Under Mandelbaum’s leadership, New Yiddish Rep has presented original films, concerts, performance art, and art exhibitions, in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English.
New Yiddish Rep’s subsequent production is entitled Die Froyen (The Wives). It’s about an abused Orthodox Jewish wife who’s stopped from seeing her children, Die Froyen lifts the veil on the plight of women in abusive relationships in the Hasidic community.
Photos: Jonathan Slaff
Theater for the New City presents the New Yiddish Rep production of Di Froyen January 22 to 30, 2022 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street). One live performance is being streamed on Sunday, January 30 at 3:00 PM $18.00
Tickets available at www.theaterforthenewcity.net