The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0147 Friday, 8 July 2011
Date: Friday, July 8, 2011
Subject: Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish
From The New York Times (Online Edition)
July 7, 2011
Movie Review: Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish
Love Speaks in Every Language
By A. O. Scott
“Romeo & Juliet in Yiddish” tucks Shakespeare’s tale of greatest woe into a story of intra-Judaic culture clash in present-day Brooklyn. The film, written and directed by Eve Annenberg (who also stars) is sprawling and sometimes confusing, but its premise is charming and not at all far-fetched. Anyone who loves “West Side Story” knows that New York is full of warring tribes and clans to serve as Montagues and Capulets. And Shakespeare was a staple of Second Avenue back in the glory days of the Yiddish theater. So Ms. Annenberg, by all appearances an eager omnivore, has plenty to work with.
Maybe a little too much. The ambitions of “Romeo & Juliet in Yiddish” outstrip its execution, which is clumsy and sometimes amateurish. But professionalism may be an unfair standard to apply, since Ms. Annenberg aims for (and often achieves) the energy and inventiveness of an improvised, process-driven group project. The movie is always interesting to watch, but you come away with the distinct feeling that it was absolutely thrilling to make. Many of the young actors — some of whom are also credited as producers — come from Orthodox backgrounds, and there is a palpable sense that their own experiences inform the roles they are playing.
Ms. Annenberg plays Ava, an emergency-room nurse and graduate student who is assigned to update an old Yiddish translation of “Romeo and Juliet.” To assist her, she hires three young men who are alienated from the sect in which they grew up. They also become principal characters in a reimagined, textually faithful rendering of the play, in which Romeo (Lazer Weiss) and Juliet (Melissa Weisz) are children of rival Hasidic groups. The tensions between their families are mirrored in Ava’s own turmoil as she tries to negotiate the chasm that separates secular Jews from their religious counterparts, and also to come to terms with her own past.
The film’s grab-bag of languages, methods and styles — there is modern and “Elizabethan” Yiddish, as well as various forms of Brooklyn English; there is melodrama, comedy and a touch of magic realism — inoculates it against didacticism. It is a lesson in tolerance only to the extent that its Shakespearean source could be described that way. Really, though, it is a complex tale of desire, above all the desire to push beyond slogans about diversity and identity and put some of the real varieties of modern Jewish experience on screen.
ROMEO & JULIET IN YIDDISH
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
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