May Onstage / LOOKING THROUGH GLASS
An update of a classic and Shakespeare two ways are on the roster for May
Zachary Bellus and Arin Lee Dandes rehearsing for Looking Through Glass, an update of The Dybbuk.
Photo by Stephen Gabris
Looking Through Glass
May 9 - June 2
Jewish Repertory Theatre, 2640 North Forest Road
Jewish Repertory Theatre presents its second world premiere of the season with Ken Kaissar’s Looking Through Glass, a modern adaptation of Solomon Rappoport Ansky’s classic, The Dybbuk. “It’s the story of a woman who is compelled to marry a man she doesn’t love, and the soul of her true love invades her soul and takes over her body. An exorcism is performed to try and relieve her body of the invading spirit,” previews playwright Kaissar. “The play was originally written in 1914 in Ansky’s native Russian tongue. It was accepted by Konstantin Stanislavsky and performed by the Moscow Art Theatre in January of 1917, one month before the beginning of the Russian Revolution. It was subsequently translated into Yiddish and Hebrew, and the Hebrew version was performed by the Habima Theater in Moscow in 1922. Habima then relocated to Palestine in 1926 and performed The Dybbuk as its premiere performance. Eventually Habima became Israel’s national theatre company. Needless to say, The Dybbuk is a very important play in the history of twentieth century Jewry. My adaptation was an attempt to bring this important Jewish tale into the twenty-first century and reintroduce it as a modern play. I’m hoping it can live on as more than just a Jewish museum piece.”
The project was suggested to Kaissar by the artistic director of 24/6, a Jewish theater company whose mission is to create opportunities for theater artists who observe the Sabbath; Kaissar was interested in digging into the source material to determine why it resonated so strongly with Jews. He found that it was not easy to read, filled with “tangential stories and ideas about Judaism that, on first glance, feel like digressions from the plot. My goal was to study each of these stories and understand why Ansky felt the need to include them, and then somehow represent them and allow them to survive in the modern adaptation.”
A big part of the modernization was increasing the interaction and romance between the main characters and placing them inside a modern love triangle—the woman about to marry a man she’s not excited about and the dilemma she faces when a more exciting, but less acceptable, option comes along. And, or course, creating a viable female character.
“Leah is completely undefined in the source material,” Kaissar notes. “Ansky does not give us the opportunity to understand who she is as a human being. She is just an object delivered from one man to another. She has no individuality or agency and does not express any preference in the man she is to marry. The real challenge, however, is that ultimately this is a story about a man’s soul who invades a woman’s body and steals her away from her husband. The story denies a woman’s agency in its very conception. I’m not sure I’ve totally solved that problem, but I tried to create a reason why a woman would choose, of her own volition, to die and spend eternity with the soul of her true love, rather than continue living in the temporal world married to a man that she doesn’t love. It was a hard thing to grapple with. I did my best to take a very non-egalitarian story and make it a bit more egalitarian.”
Aside from that conundrum, Kaissar finds Ansky’s story “timeless and chilling. It has an element of the macabre which makes it a delicious ghost story. And it raises metaphysical questions about the soul and what happens to us when we die. It’s a very compelling piece of work and creates a wonderfully spooky environment in the theater.”
Through May 19
Irish Classical Theatre Company
SYNOPSIS: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is home from school to mourn the death of his father, King Hamlet, who has died two months earlier. Hamlet is disgusted by the marriage of his newly widowed mother, Queen Gertrude, to his Uncle, King Hamlet’s brother, Claudius, who now has the throne.
2) The full and rarely used title of the play is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Anthony Alcocer was in Niagara University's Hamlet in 2013
3) The last production of Hamlet in Buffalo was in 2013 with Niagara University graduate Shaun Seley home from St. Louis to play the titular role. Anthony Alcocer plays this version’s prince, directed by his wife Kate LoConti Alcocer.
4) You’ve likely never seen the entire Hamlet, which at 4,042 lines is Shakespeare’s longest play, and, in full, runs about five hours. Even Irish isn’t going to do that!
5) If you’ve ever said “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” “the lady doth protest too much,” or “brevity is the soul of wit,” you are referencing Hamlet!
6) WHAT THEY SAID: Reviews are too numerous to quote, but Hamlet was a hit from the start, even for Shakespeare, who found it one of his most popular plays. It’s the Royal Shakespeare Company’s most performed play and is reportedly second only to Cinderella as the most filmed story, with over fifty screen adaptations.
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