STAN UNGER, MULTI-TALENTED ACTOR AND SINGER

Stan Unger plays Yankel Chapchovich, the central character in the play God of Vengeance.
(Stan is an accomplished singer as well as an actor.)

Standing O for the King Lear of Yiddish theatre. by Matt Radz, The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, June 10, 2006, page E15.

" God of Vengeance would not work as well without Stanley Unger's persuasive performance "

An ethical conundrum animates God of Vengeance, this year's production of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, which opened Thursday at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre.

Will the father's sins rain down on his daughter, even if he can afford to buy a sacred Torah scroll to serve as her umbrella? The black cloud of tragedy in Sholem Asch's 1908 classic about family values is a theological question wrapped around a lesbian love story set in a bordello.

The King Lear of Yiddish theatre, God of Vengeance is distinguished by its

Shakespeare-like dramatic density, a storm of emotions that enables director Bryna Wasserman to deliver two hours of theatre that's as intense as anything seen this season.

Anglo audiences tend to be cool in their reaction to even the most moving performances. Thursday's thunderous ovation belied that.

Putting on a legit drama instead of its customary musical is a departure the Dora Wasserman Theatre ought to make more often. All things considered, any Yiddish Theatre production is a miracle. But a show as well realized as this one moves the company well beyond the ethnographic, living-legacy appeal.

There are no miracles for Yankel Chapchovich, the play's central character. A prosperous brothel-keeper, he's out for social acceptance and shopping for a pious suitor for Rivkele, a daughter he keeps sealed in her room like a relic of chastity.

Young, restless and curious, Rivkele has notions of her own and a smoldering passion for Manke, one of her father's working girls. The lesbian motif triggered a notorious obscenity trial when the play opened in English on Broadway in 1923.

When Rivkele bolts with Manke after a girlish frolic in the rain that is the show's technical and lyrical high note, her brief walk on the wild side sends Yankel on his final lap to perdition.

Wasserman excels at orchestrating stage movement, bringing a graceful musicality to her interpretation of Asch's tragedy, with the help of 17 actors. The production is also well served by the upstairs-downstairs contrast between the sacred and profane in Yannik Larivee's set design. The Chapchovich family pursues respectability in a bright apartment, directly above Yankel's dimly lit den.

God of Vengeance would not work as well without Stanley Unger's persuasive performance as Yankel, anchoring an impressive ensemble effort. Adina Katz as Rivkele and Maia Cooper (Manke) bring a freshness to their respective roles.

Keila Finkelstein moves easily between hausfrau and old coquette as Yankel's wife Soreh, a retired hooker whose previous vocation also figures in the family's downfall, or more accurately, failure to rise above sin-tainted mammon.

God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, a Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre production, until June 22 at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, 5170 Cote Ste. Catherine Rd. (514) 739-7944. With English and French surtitles.

mradz@thegazette.canwest.com


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