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The (*) Inn*empty, vacant, abandoned; usually translated as “Haunted”
A bit of history: Hirschbein was born in rural Grodno province in Belarus. He first wrote poetry and short stories, then naturalist drama. In 1906 Hirschbein shifted into his symbolist phase. Two years later he founded the Hirschbein Troupe, dedicated to more “literary” theater. The troupe disbanded in 1910, after which Hirschbein began writing plays about the rural Jewish world he had grown up in. The Haunted Inn is one of those plays.
Although Hirschbein was writing about familiar themes, his style was very different. Because his plays were more about mood than plot, he was known as “the Yiddish Maeterlinck.” He was certainly, well-known and influential one hundred years ago, but today his is not the first name that comes to mind when people think of Yiddish theater.
For modern audiences, the European shtetls engender images of chickens and lovable people taking care of cows and talking to God every once in a while. Call it the Fiddler on the Roof syndrome. But one of the goals of this production is to deliberately references this stereotype and turn it on its head. This information (or most of it) is available to reviewers in the press release. Others, not so fortunate, are left to figure out what all those doll-like chickens people carry and what the outrageous make-up and the stylized delivery of the dialogue at the beginning of the play are all about.
The (*) Inn begins with a parody of Yiddish life as presented by the works of Sholom Aleichem. It then quickly shifts to a tale of sadomasochism, lust, and the known and unknown forces of evil.
Bendet (Amir Darvish), a provincial horse dealer, and his wife Khyenne (Meg MacCary) have chosen Leibush (Susan Hyon) as a husband for their daughter, Meta (Rachel Claire). However, Meta has an understanding with Itsik (Sam T. West), who is actually her cousin. Not far from the farm is a haunted inn the family intends on tearing down in order to build a new one, which will be a gift to the newlyweds.
Things do not turn out as expected. Meta is rebellious. Itsik is alluring. The demons at the inn are restless.
Target Margin’s production with it’s multi-ethnic, gender-mixed cast captures all the mystery and intensity of Hirschbein’s play. The lighting and sound do wonders. Claire’s performance is especially haunting. But despite the frequent use of the original Yiddish, the symbolism clearly trumps the Jewish roots here.
What’s more, some of the directorial decisions are not especially clear. Why do offstage voices sometimes take over while the actors are onstage. Why do microphones appear briefly at the beginning of the play?
The (*) Inn takes a play that is somewhat confusing and makes it even more incomprehensible, thus making great demands on the audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But The (*) Inn may leave even those familiar with Yiddish theater baffled. It must have been a challenge to produce. It is certainly a challenge to watch.
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