By William Wolf

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (IN YIDDISH)  Send This Review to a Friend

Avi Hoffman’s performance as Willy Loman in the Yiddish interpretation of “Death of a Salesman” stands among the best of Willy Lomans in the history of Arthur Miller’s classic. His acting is very special and deeply moving in the tragic portrait that emerges in this version, presented by the New Yiddish Rep in association with Castillo Theatre. The drama is extremely well mounted under the direction of Moshe Yassur, and the simplicity of using a practically bare stage, even with the breaks in time frames, serves to make the drama intimate. The dialogue translated into English is projected on screens.

The total effect is unusual, with the result that a cast speaking Yiddish gives a Jewish family flavor to the Lomans, with the kind of ethnic intensity generally non-existent in traditional stagings. Hoffman’s Loman is fascinating. He fights vigorously against his life of defeat, refusing to submit quietly. His mental lapses and his bent toward suicide have dramatic intensity, and there is passion in his defense when his son discovers him with a woman in a Boston hotel room. Overall this is a heightened portrait of Willy, yet accomplished without scenery-chewing. We get a rounded, dynamic picture of a man gasping for life.

The other cast members are in tune with the tenor of the production, especially Suzanne Toren as Willy’s wife Linda. The Yiddish adaptation is an old one by Joseph Buloff prepared for its staging in Argentina before it was done in 1951 at Brooklyn’s Parkway Theatre. It had the approval of Arthur Miller. The text is often not always a direct translation of Miller’s dialogue, given the need to make it colloquial.

The play, in addition to being appreciated for its poignancy and what it has to say about the American dream, was noted for the creative way in which it had shifts in time and place. But despite the tiny stage of the Castillo Theatre, such demands were nonetheless handled effectively by deft use of available space and relying on audience imagination.

You don’t have to know Yiddish to appreciate this work –the title translations un English are plentiful. Helping to make the experience rewarding are the excellent other cast members, including Lev Herskovitz, Daniel Kahn, Ben Rosenblatt, Amy Coleman, Shane Baker, Itzy Firestone, Adam Shapiro, llan Kwittken, Shayna Schmidt and Arielle Beth. At the Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed October 18, 2015.


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