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A CurtainUp Review
The Marriage Contract

A woman has to marry her husband. It's the law. —- Elimeylekh Borozovski
marriage contract
Dany Marcus and Eyal Sher
(Photo: Scott Wynn)
At the beginning of the 20th century when the immigration of European Jews was at its height, Second Avenue was the heart of Jewish life and also Yiddish theater. Today the theaters have disappeared and their patrons have moved to the Upper West Side. Happily, one of the few survivors of that era, The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has moved too. For the fifth straight season, Folksbiene is in residence at The Jewish Community Center where it seems to be thriving.

But if the location has changed, so has the audience. Folksbiene's current offering, Israeli playwright Ephraim Kishon's Di Ksube or The Marriage Contract, plays to an audience that, for the most part, doesn't speak Yiddish. Making a virtue of necessity this show, like all of Folksbiene's Yiddish presentations, is enhanced with English (and Russian) supertitles.

Some people may find the constant shifting from screen to stage distracting, but for anyone willing to work just a little harder The Marriage Contract is a treasure trove of broad comedy, gentle irony and melodic, upbeat songs. Those who think it doesn't match Broadway glitz should remember that Yiddish theater was where many of Broadway's greatest artists first cut their teeth.

Folksbiene associate artistic director Motl Didner directs the show with an innate understanding of what made Yiddish theater so enjoyable — it's warmth, it's compassion, its sense of the absurd. His love for this material is evident in his tender treatment of even the most ridiculous characters.

The Marriage Contract, one of the longest running plays ever staged in Israel, is infused with the well-established Jewish penchant for laughing in the midst of trying times. Shifre (Suzanne Toren)) and Elimeylekh (Itzy Firestone) Borozovski, two former kibbutzniks, have been married twenty-five years. Their marriage isn't perfect (Elimeylekh wipes his mouth on the tablecloth) but it is stable and loving.

The Borozovskis have certainly never even thought of where they put their marriage contract until their daughter, Ayala (Dani Marcus) tells them that her future husband, Robert (Eyal Sherf), a nerdy mamma's boy (one of the Yiddish stage's favorite characters) will not marry her until his mother check's out her parents' marriage contract to make sure everything is kosher.

When the Borozovskis realize they don't know where the marriage contract is, Elimeylekh, a modern Tevya who left the cows back at the kibbutz, decides the only solution is to get married again. But Shifre says not so fast. In the first place she'd like to be wooed and in the second place, she's not so sure she wants to marry Elimeylekh, who over the years has developed numerous habits she finds offensive.

Desperate to find a solution to his predicament, Elimeylekh gets in touch with the kibbutz where he and Shifre were married. Help arrives in the person of a man who is everything Robert is not another staple of the Yiddish stage a brash young wisecracker named Buki (Ilan Kwittken). All business, Buki is anxious to get out of the Borozovski household and make a bank deposit — until he sets eyes on Ayala.

Yafa Birnboym (Mena Levit), a meddlesome widow who lives nearby, is only too eager to jump into the breach that has opened between the Borozovskis. Her overwrought perusal of Elimeylekh is a humorous (though not entirely necessary) subplot.

The Marriage Contract is not exactly the kind of musical we are used to. Composer Shimon Cohen and lyricist Moshe Sacher have contributed only eight songs and they aren't particularly well-integrated or essential to the show. Only Levit has a voice with the power and texture musicals call for. But the show would surely not be as entertaining without those songs.

Any search for deeper meaning will definitely prove fruitless and spoil the fun. Yet, for those who find this comedy old-fashioned and anti-feminist, let it be noted that the Jewish marriage contract is a legal document which never mentions God. It says nothing about love, honoring and cherishing, but rather lays out what the groom must provide for his wife (food, clothing, shelter) in exchange for a virgin and 200 silver zuzim. The bride, on the other hand, makes no promises.

The Marriage Contract makes only one promise — that you'll have an unusually good time.

By Ephraim Kishon
Directed by Miotl Didner
Music by Shimon Cohen
Lyrics by Moshe Sacher
Musical Direction by Zalmen Mlotek
Translation: Israel Beker
Cast: Yafa Birnboym (Mena Levit), Shifre Borozovski (Suzanne Toren), Ayala Borozovski (Dani Marcus), Elimeylekh Borozovski (Itzy Firestone), Robert Knal (Eyal Sherf), Buki Vays (Ilan Kwittken)
Choreography: Penny Ayn Maas
Set Design: Joseph Spirito
Costume Design: Gail Cooper-Hecht
Lighting Design: Dan Scully
Sound Design: Don Jacobs Supertitle Design: Matt Temkin
Folksbiene at the Jewish Community Center, 334 Amsterdam Avenue
Tickets: $40 & $45 (212) 279-4200
Running Time: 2:30 including intermission.
From 3/16/08, opening 3/23/08, closes 4/6/08
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 20th

Musical Numbers

Enough Already/Ayala, Shifre, Yafa
What Have I Gotten Myself Into?/Ayala, Elimeylekh, Shifre
I Remember/Elimeylekh
Oy, Is This a Dance/Buki, Elimeylekh
What Do You See in Him?/Ayala/Buki
Take Me to the Symphony Orchestra/Shifre, Yafa
I'll Be a Bachelor Again/Elimeylekh

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