Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Katrina Lenk

The Band’s Visit – Not To Be Missed


I reviewed The Band’s Visit when it debuted at The Atlantic Theater last year. Much of the cast remains the same. Parts of this piece come from that review, parts allude to changes and fresh observations evoked by the new presentation.

“Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”

What appears at first glance to be a slight ripple in history sometimes affects those present in profoundly unexpected ways. This gem of a musical, whose fine book buoys grounded lyrics, embraces what we have in common rather than becoming yet another platform for political social/division. That it does so with limpid delicacy eschewing Hollywood outcomes makes the piece as refreshing as it is sympathetic.

John Cariani, Etai Benson, Katrina Lenk, Tony Shaloub and band members

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to open an Arab Cultural Center in Pet Hatikva, Israel. Overseen with utmost decorum “We are here to represent our country!” by their conductor, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Tony Shalhoub), the small troop appear somewhat dazed. Crisp, powder blue military uniforms stand out against sand and cracked cement as if landed from another planet. In fact, they are strangers in a strange land.

When trumpet player/ladies man Haled (Ari’el Stachel) mistakenly arranges passage to neighboring Bat Hatikva (B not P), the men find themselves in a one horse, Israeli, Negev Desert town without the horse. Locals pass by means of a stage floor turntable. They’re all “Waiting,” but is it for something special or just “Looking off out into the distance/even though you know the view is never gonna change…”

Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari, Andrew Polk, George Abud

Café owner Dina (Katrina Lenk), affable Itzik (a sympathetic John Cariani), and hapless young Papi (Etai Benson- self conscious acting), sing “Welcome to Nowhere.” As the next bus doesn’t come through till tomorrow and the settlement has no hotel, Dina agrees to put up Tewfiq and Haled. Itzik takes home clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari, whose quiet gentility warms the role) and violinist Camal (George Abud) – the former unwittingly affecting family dynamics. Others bunk in the café.

The play evolves over a single afternoon and evening with four integrated chapters. At Itzak’s we meet his wife Iris (new to the company Kristen Sieh, who makes her character’s frustration palpable) and father-in-law Avram (Andrew Polk – very fine, but the actor should remove his diamond ear stud).  Note to prop master: the baby doll looks pointedly fake. Avram’s irresistible “Beat of Your Heart” brightens proceedings. At a roller rink, Papi panics around girls. Description of his state “Papi Hears the Ocean” is priceless.

Rachel Prather, Etai Benson, Ari’el Stachel

Curious about and drawn to her guest, the attractive Dina literally lets her hair down with Tewfiq and gets the guarded conductor to open up. He sings in a capella Arabic (with immense feeling), but is it about love, she wonders, or fishing? This man is compelling.

The fourth chapter, an embodiment of hopeful perseverance, is played out with the Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor – good, low key turn) who has stood outside a phone booth every night for a month waiting for a promised call from his girl. Then it’s time for the orchestra to move on. We last see them – performing – in Pet Hatikva. It’s extremely difficult not to get up and dance.

A wonderful experience.

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shaloub

David Yazbeck’s infectious music embraces Middle Eastern influences with estimable skill, maintaining an atmosphere of “other” one rarely finds in Broadway theater. Listen for the sole number with real jazz influence. Stachel actually plays trumpet, Tewari, clarinet, Abud, violin. Other on stage musicians include: Ossama Farouk, Sam Sadigursky, Harvey Valdes, Garo Yellin.

Several cast members speak fluent Arabic while others deliver dialogue in Hebrew. There isn’t a single weak link in acting or vocals. Casting (Tara Rubin) must’ve been like scaling a glass mountain.

Ari’el Stachel imbues Haled with sincere sweetness that would appeal to the girls with whom his character continually flirts, yet masculinity is ever present. His paternal attitude toward Papi is lovely. And he sings well.

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub are a match made in heaven. Lenk’s earthy, sensual, smart portrayal make Dina a real and formidable woman. She emanates earthiness and manifests animal grace. Rarely have the practical and passionate been so believable in tandem. The actress also has a superb voice.

Shalhoub’s performance is nuanced and poignant. Fastidiousness is as unmistakable as emotional armor. Revealing a painful past, Tewfiq maintains perspective, yet at one point, we hear his breath catch. A pivotal song communicates lost illusions. Though we don’t understand a word of the foreign language, one knows. The couple’s parting couldn’t be more moving or convincingly manifest.

Director David Cromer has both a soulful character touch and the kind of comprehensive vision that never makes a false move. A turntable is wonderfully employed. The exception, of which first time attendees may be less aware, concerns live musicians. Perhaps in an effort to fully utilize the possibilities of a multilevel set, integration of performing band members is more stagey/obvious than previously impeding on authenticity. “Musical breaks” unrelated to narrative – excepting a joyous encore, feel somewhat uncomfortable. Most importantly, in the play’s first incarnation, every note emerged from visible actor/musicians. On Broadway, additional band members play from elsewhere giving accompaniment a full, rather false sound which includes piano. This takes away from both intimacy and bona fides. More in this case does not enhance, it detracts.

As realized by Scott Pask, Set Design has naturally expanded into the space. The turntable continues inspired. Most of the new design is not overdone due to increased budget. The roller rink is possibly too decked out to be credible in the tiny, backward location, however.

Sarah Laux’s Costumes are just right down to Dina’s second rate jeans and clodhopper shoes – excepting an old lady with an oxygen tank who wanders through in the opening dressed as if from another play.

Language and Dialect Coach Mouna R’miki deserves a standing ovation.

Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: The Band led by Tony Shaloub

The Band’s Visit
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Itamar Moses
Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin
Music Director: Andrea Grody; Orchestrations: Jamishied Sharifi
Directed by David Cromer
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Indecent – The true story of a little Jewish play – Marvelous


In Sholem Asch’s 1907 play, The God of Vengeance (Got fun nekome), a lesbian virgin and a prostitute make love in the rain. Despite accompanying scandal, Europe applauds. In 1923, when, after several U.S. productions, a translated version reaches Broadway, its cast is arrested, then convicted on obscenity charges. The now established Asch, living and working on Staten Island, doesn’t show up to defend the company. Much happened between.

Stage Manager Lemmel (a splendidly empathetic Richard Topol) introduces his thespians and musicians – ingénues, middle aged actors, and those who play the elderly.  Each stands. Ashes pour from their sleeves. (Inspired) “We have a story about a play that changed my life…”

company dance

The Company

We’re all brothers and sing happy songs/We stick together like nobody else does…the company sings in Yiddish.

It’s 1906 Warsaw. Polish/Jewish author Sholem Asch, 1880-1957 (the entirely credible Max Gordon Moore) is excited about reading his play at the writers’ salon of cultural figurehead Y.L. Peretz (Tom Nellis, also in a roster of vibrantly realized roles). Peretz spearheads a renaissance of Yiddish writing, Asch’s mother tongue. The piece is condemned by those gathered for showing Jewish people in poor light. Only a tailor named Lemmel, invited by his cousin, is enthusiastic. “A minion,” Asch comments darkly in response, “is ten Jews in a circle accusing each other of Antisemitism.”

The God of Vengeance features a hypocritically pious, Jewish brothel owner who commissions an expensive Torah scroll intending to marry his daughter off to a yeshiva student to secure respectability. When she falls in love with a prostitute, her furious father throws down the Torah and banishes the girl and her mother to earn their keep “on your backs.”


Richard Topol and Adina Verson

In search of creative freedom, Shalom and his wife Mathilde (Adina Verson) move to Berlin as initially depicted here by a Weimar Cabaret act. There the piece is produced in a German version by Max Reinhardt with Rudolph Shildkraut (Nellis) in the lead. “I assume I will be the butch and you the feminine, but how do I play a Jew?” the more experienced actress (Katrina Lenk) reflects. (The other is played by Verson.) We watch as these two discover one another. Lemmel shows up (it’s not clear how) and becomes the production’s stage manager, a position he’ll hold for the rest of his life.

The show tours outside of Poland. We see excerpts with the use of actors freezing while “a blink in time” appears on the translation screen – a method to fast forward. The couple emigrates to New York. Asch pulls strings to insure Lemmel joins them. Peyos (long, hanging sidelocks) are dispensed with. “Even Jews looks like Goys in America,” they sing and dance. Many take English names and endeavor to learn the language. Asch continues to write in Yiddish.


Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk; Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson

There are two successful downtown runs. Audiences appreciate the playwright’s ability to bring Jewish themes to secular subjects. A translation that takes liberties to which Lemmel and the cast object, but Asch ignores “why should I bother with a play I wrote when I was in short pants” facilitates a debut at Broadway’s Apollo Theater. (The nature of these makes this plausible.) Arrests follow. Though notable artists volunteer to testify in defense (Eugene O’Neill is shown), the court denies them opportunity.

Angry and disillusioned, Lemmel goes back to Warsaw where he’s incarcerated in the ghetto (and eventually taken to a camp). The “company” add Jewish stars to their threadbare coats and perform one makeshift act of the play each week. This is wrenching. In the meantime, Asch and his wife…


Richard Topol, Katrina Verson, Katrina Lenk, Tom Nellis, Stephen Ratazzi, and Mimi Lieber

Paula Vogel and Rebecca Teichman’s deft, provocative production has moved, much intact, from The Vineyard Theatre to The Cort. I hope its new location brings the worthy piece extended audience. I’m Jewish, my companion tonight is not; impact seems equally experienced. Subjects like censorship, religious conservatism, cultural convention, assimilation, and bigotry – here, both Antisemitism and homophobia are universally relevant.

Though it’s passionate, Indecent is not a polemic. The eloquent book is peppered with songs and dances, both traditionally Yiddish (translations appear when necessary, on a screen) and popular English WWII numbers. These can lighten proceedings or darken them with sharp juxtaposition to events. Failings and accomplishment are depicted through specific human characters, not ideas. Indecent (an ambiguous title) is both immensely moving and entertaining.

Asche port

Sholem Asch

Manke (the prostitute)… Because I don’t want to talk any more. Okay? No more talking.Talking’s never a good idea. I wanna dance.
Orthodox Man (her client) Dance?
(She goes to the Victrola, puts on a jaunty Tin Pan Alley tune.)
Manke: There, come on let’s dance. (She pulls him to his feet.)
Orthodox Man: No, no, I can’t.
Manke: What do you mean you can’t?
Orthodox Man: It’s not allowed…
Manke: “Not allowed?” You’ll pay to shtup me but you won’t dance with me?

From The God of Vengeance

The God of Vengeance was translated into multiple languages enjoying a long life abroad. Shalom Asch’s works are many and varied. He eventually wrote in English. In an attempt to show religious similarities, one trilogy examines pointedly Christian subjects. It elicited backlash from both sides.

Also featuring Mimi Lieber and Stephen Rattazzi.

The outstanding cast can act, sing, and dance. Many speak perfect Yiddish. Well integrated onstage, Co-Composers/Music Directors- Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva play multiple instruments joined by the equally skilled Matt Darriau.

Emily Rebholtz’s Costumes reflect the time/place/people like archival photos. Choreography by David Dorfman aesthetically captures tradition and context with skill.

Director Rebecca Teichman has illuminated a complicated story in accessible, affecting manner. Intermingling musical numbers with dialogue enhances rather than distracts from both aspects of the production. Use of the translation screen works well. Actors are given space to inhabit their characters.

Forewarned: This is another production of some length ( 1 3/4 hours) without an intermission! (A current fad with which I disagree past 75 minutes.)

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Shalom Asch-Max Gordon Moore & Lemmel- Richard Topol

Indecent by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Projection Design- Tal Yarden
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street