Gallery Players, central Ohio’s premiere theatre troupe featuring Jewish performances and plays with largely Jewish content and themes, is proud to announce its 65th season will open with the play, Yentl. Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” set in 19th century Poland, Yentl tells the tale of a young girl who studies Jewish law but is not bound by it, finding her own way after her father dies and she continues her studies, gender disguised, at a yeshiva.
Yentl will be presented in conjunction with the Fort Hayes Black Box Theatre Company. Veteran director Steve Black, who has spent the past 15 years instructing aspiring young actors at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, will bring what he calls a “fable done with joy” to life on the stage of the Roth/Resler Theater of the Jewish Community Center.
The story will easily unfold before the audience through the use of a simple set, enhanced by intricate detailing, symbolic props, and the knowledge and insight of the play’s historian and dramaturg, community educator Eran Rosenberg. The simplicity is designed to showcase the strong performances of Addy Feibel, as Yentl, Daniel Shtivelberg as Yentl’s scholastic equal, Avigdor, and Rachel Gaunce as Avigdor’s love interest, Hadass. “The set truly represents the flow of Jewish culture in these joyous moments,” said Black.
The joyous play, Black added, will focus on the innocence of youth and be told from the perspective of the younger characters, primarily the girl who defies tradition by discussing and debating Jewish law and theology, living secretly as a boy named Anshel. Questions of gender identity, equality, and tolerance arise as audiences are left to wonder what might become of Anshel when she chooses to remain living as a male the rest of her life.
The collected works of Isaac Bashevis Singer are still among Black’s top five favorite literary works, and, even after 15 years directing in New York City, the JCC remains one of his favorite places to direct. “It’s just a beautiful community. The youth inspire me. I had to direct this. Addy as Yentl is wise beyond her years, and that’s who Yentl was,” Black explained. “The theme of a young woman coming of age was exciting for me. The story comes from Yentl’s heart and is about the ‘divine androgyny of the soul’—how our souls are equal no matter what—which is, for me, so enlightening and freeing. My job is to try and help tickle the audience with the innocence of this piece.”
Delighting and enlightening audiences now for 65 years, Gallery Players chose Yentl as its first production for its 65th season because, as Jared Saltman, Gallery Players Managing and Artistic Director, explained, “We wanted to produce this play because it’s a great work. It’s something our community wants to and should see.”
Addy Feibel, a student at Columbus School for Girls, hopes to bring meaning and a celebratory feel to her performance of the role of Yentl. “I have always interpreted Yentl’s message as extremely feminist. Yentl challenged stereotypes and defied limits in order to pursue her passion. Like Yentl, I have always loved to learn, but it has been something I have taken for granted. Yentl, and the real-life women like her who came before me, paved the way for girls like me to achieve more. Yentl is a special part for me to play as it celebrates the progress we have accomplished as a society in regards to women’s rights,” said Feibel.
From its delicately feminist treatment of Jewish tradition and uplifting look at difference and acceptance to its uproariously funny ensemble cast of characters, Yentl is a multi-layered coming-of-age “dramedy” audiences won’t soon forget. “There are so many levels to the story of Yentl,” said Black. “It’s about not having to accept things as they are written — Judaism leaves room for debate and discussion; that’s why yeshivas exist. It’s okay to question in Singer’s world.”
Saltman agreed, “The Jewish religion is there to question everything. We’re supposed to be doing that. This show does that. It’s about questioning. It’s about finding your place in the world. But even more than that, it’s about how a woman fashions a new role for herself and still manages to find acceptance.”
Performances of the play, cowritten by Isaac Bashevis Singer & Leah Napolin, run October 19-November 3, 2013. General admission ticket prices are $20 for nonmember adults and $15 for JCC members; $18 for senior non-members, $13 for senior JCC members, and $10 for students. Season tickets are still available: $55/season pass for JCC Members; $70/season pass for the general public. Visit the Gallery Players website, jccgalleryplayers.org, or call 614-231-2731, to purchase tickets or find out more.