Boy-meets-girl gets a sweet twist in Minnesota Jewish Theatre premiere

 
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REVIEW: Hasid meets girl in the charming new play "Natasha and the Coat."
By LISA BROCK Special to the Star Tribune
APRIL 24, 2018 — 9:41AM

Provided Kim Kivens as Felicity and Miriam Schwartz as her intern, Natasha, in  Natasha and the Coat  by Deborah Stein, April 21-May 13 at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. 

Provided Kim Kivens as Felicity and Miriam Schwartz as her intern, Natasha, in Natasha and the Coat by Deborah Stein, April 21-May 13 at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. 

“Sometimes the very old tales are the very most true ones,” elderly Jewish dry-cleaner Mordy confides to the audience at the beginning of “Natasha and the Coat.”

It’s an apt introduction for that oldest of stories — boy meets girl — in a show getting its world premiere at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company through May 13. Playwright Deborah Stein takes a pair of mismatched lovers and sets them smack dab in the middle of the Hasidic Jewish community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Natasha (Miriam Schwartz) is new to the neighborhood, having just graduated from college and landed a coveted internship with a vintage clothing
wholesaler. Yossi (Avi Aharoni) has spent his entire life there, working in his family’s dry-cleaning business. With his traditional black suit, side curls and ritual fringes, he seems to come not just from a different world from Natasha but a different century.

When Natasha spills coffee on a valuable coat, she asks Yossi to clean it before her boss can find out. His job transforms the garment, leading her to bring him more and more work. The two forge an unlikely romance, while Yossi’s parents look on with disapproval and Natasha’s boss grows increasingly suspicious.

Stein’s strong characterizations and humorous dialogue overcome some unlikely plot devices, while director Miriam Monasch and a capable cast lend warmth to this sweetly funny tale. Michael Hoover’s set ably accommodates scenes that shift regularly between the dry-cleaning shop and the clothing “atelier.”

Liz Josheff Busa’s props and Lisa Conley’s costumes add color, context and some stunning vintage dresses to the mix. Much of the play’s energy derives from the study in contrasts between Natasha and Yossi. Schwartz embodies the brash confidence and flighty, nervous energy of a young woman giddily poised to jump into the adventure of adulthood. Yossi, on the other hand, wavers between worlds. Aharoni beautifully conveys this tension in a scene in which Yossi trades his suit for jeans and a T-shirt, admiring himself in a mirror with shy wonder.

The other three cast members offer solid support. Kim Kivens is delightfully nasty as Natasha’s steelyeyed and egotistical boss, positively quivering with disdain and ever ready with an acid remark or a cold stare. Muriel Bonertz is equally intimidating as Yossi’s mother, a woman determined to stand as a bulwark against change, while Charles Numrich’s Mordy provides a softening influence as Yossi’s father, firm in his faith but tormented by his son’s dilemma.

Overall, this production’s strong acting and warmhearted charm open up an unfamiliar world while providing a unique twist on a very old story. 

Natasha and the Coat
Who: By Deborah Stein. Directed by Miriam Monasch. Produced by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun. Ends May 13.
Tickets: $23-$38. 651-647-4315 or mnjewishtheatre.org

Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities critic.

Original Source: http://www.startribune.com/boy-meets-girl-gets-a-sweet-twist-in-minnesota-jewish-theatrepremiere/
480686711/

‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ a Family-Friendly Winner

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Actors Joe Wiener as “fat goblin” and Charles Numrich as “Hershel of Ostropol” in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins." (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ a Family-Friendly Winner

by Lonny Goldsmith in jewish organizationsTheater December 8, 2017

There’s an intimacy of Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s performance space at the Highland Community Center that lets the audience sit a few feet from the actors on stage. When it’s children that sit in those seats, as they did at the Dec. 7 opening of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, they were able to get up close and personal with an imaginative and fun production.

This is the fifth time that the MJTC has put on the show based on the book by Eric A. Kimmel and directed by Shelli Place. The show opened a couple minutes prior to the ticket time, as the four townspeople (played by Neal Beckman, Kim Kivens, Julie Ann Nevill and Joe Wiener), came on stage and began setting up their props, asking stage manager Matthew Meeks to test out sound effects and lighting, and even getting the input from the audience to bump up some of the lightning sound effects late in the show.

Artistic Director Barbara Brooks said that she wrote that new open for the show as a way to make theater feel more accessible to the children – and it was successful. The classes that walked over from a nearby elementary school were instantly engaged.

Once the show starts, the audience becomes members of Helmsbergville, the Eastern European village where the Hanukkah goblins inhabit the synagogue and prevent the townspeople from celebrating the holiday. The actors – the four townspeople and Hershel of Ostropol (played by Charles Numrich) rely on the audience to play a part to keep the show moving. To the credit of the audience on opening morning, the feedback from a crowd of children didn’t hold up the show at all.

The show clocks in at just over an hour and moves along at a good clip, although it feels like it drags a bit where Hershel interacts with the goblins, which are beautiful puppets designed by Ivey Award-winner Chris Griffith. But what helps is how well the actors who play the townspeople use the goblin puppets. It adds a layer of physical comedy to the well-delivered script.

Overall, the show is really a winner. It’s fun and funny, with even the occasional pun that flew over an elementary schoolers head. But at the end of the day, you get accessible entertainment that embraces the miracle of Hanukkah.

Performances: Sundays, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (Dec. 17 only), Monday-Friday, 9:45* and 11:45* a.m.

*Limited availabiity, please call in advance. For school group opportunities, please contact the box office at 651-647-4315.

All performances held at the Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul, MN 55116. The theater is fully accessible.

To order tickets, call the Box Office at 651-647-4315 or contact www.mnjewishtheatre.org