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Hester Street

Enjoyable play at Theater J

Hester Street at Theater J is an interesting show. Great music, great acting and a very creative stage setting. That creativity in some ways seems to be because the show is too big for the stage at Theater J. Nevertheless it is a show you will enjoy. The play is written by Sharyn Rothstein, with the original music and songs by Joel Waggoner. It is directed by Oliver Butler.

Hester Street was first done as a film in 1975 based on Abraham Cahan’s 1896 novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto. The story unfolds in 1896 and revolves around Jewish immigrants who arrive on the Lower East Side of New York City from Eastern Europe. They settle on Hester Street in Manhattan, seeking a new life in America. When the film came out it received generally very good reviews. Pauline Kael who later wrote a review about it, suggested the characters were kind of one dimensional. I would agree with her on that. There is very little character development. 

Courtesy of Theater J Ryan Maxwell Photography
   Jason Cohen, Morgan Morse, Lauren Jeanne Thomas   Photo courtesy of Theater J Ryan Maxwell Photography

It is the story of Yankel, played by the very talented Jake Horowitz, who comes to America without his wife and son, and quickly assimilates, changing his name to Jake. He begins an affair with Mamie, a dancer, played to perfection by Eden Epstein. Jake shares a flat with Bernstein, played by Michael Perrie Jr., who is totally believable in the role of a learned young man who clings to the old ways, and could have become a Rabbi had he not immigrated. Their landlady, Mrs. Kavarsky, played by the funny and very talented Dani Stoller, brings much of the humor to the play. She is a joy to watch. Life goes smoothly until Jake decides to bring his wife and son over, and sends tickets home for them. His wife Gitl, played by the talented Sara Kapner, wants to cling to her old ways, and their son Youssef, played by the very talented Katie Angell, whose name Jake immediately changes to Joey. Gitl speaks only Yiddish, and has Jake reverting to Yiddish when he talks with her. The translation of their conversations, and those that others have in Yiddish, is shown across the top of the stage, and is very well done. The story shows how they each decide to move forward with their lives. It is a story that could describe so many other immigrant groups and the debate among them as to how much, and how quickly, to assimilate. 

The film wasn’t a musical and the addition of music here is fine. The musicians are wonderful and incredibly talented, especially Morgan Morse who plays Joe Peltner. He is a standout in the cast.  The use of music to try to get the feel of the hustle and bustle of the lower east side, is very well done. What is a little disconcerting is when they take the instruments inside. There is a wonderful, very funny shtick, where loud music is used to show how crazy it was for immigrants when they looked to be admitted to the United States. It is well done. 

The creative team who add so much to this production include the wonderful and very creative, Scenic Designer, Wilson Chin, Costume Designer, Frank Labovitz, Lighting Designer, Colin K. Bills, and Sound Designer, Justin Schmitz. 

Hester Street will be at Theater J though April 21, 2024. I would urge you to get tickets. You will enjoy this night at the theater.