Critical Response

Corey Fischer:  Selected reviews of work as actor and director

(in reverse chronological order)

2016: Lightning in the Brain written, composed and performed by Corey Fischer, developed with and directed by Naomi Newman, The Marsh, SF.

“Fischer…is a ferocious and powerful actor: tall and imposing of stature, with a resonant voice, a skilled physicality, and a gift for creating complex characters…This time, he himself, at 71, is the character.…the heart is in his revelations about aging… and ultimately his new understanding of what all that means for his own identity as a creative artist.” – Jean Schiffman, SF Examiner

“Fischer is a captivating performer and an assured raconteur. [Lightning in the Brain is] a kind of exercise against forgetting…There’s no set, no costume changes, just the power of Fischer’s performance” – Sam Hurwitt, Marin IJ

2012: The Good Person of Setzuan by Bertold Brecht, adapted by Tony Kushner, directed by Corey Fischer at CSUEB (Reviewed in The Pioneer, CSUEB’s student newspaper.)

“Staged three days after the election, the timing could not be better for a college rendition of German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan, an unconventional play which critiques an economy based on greed, about making a living in the world while still trying to be considered a ‘good person…’ The student performers were very active in using their props to make music and beatbox about the troubles of the 99 percent… Brecht’s play’s usually involve the audience, and the play’s surprise ending gives an unexpected and exciting new twist.

“As young students growing and as people in general deciding the type of people we are and are going to be, this play is quite relevant to our time.”

My own notes on the production can be found online at: 

 2009: The Chosen adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok by Aaron Posner, Directed by Aaron Davidman, at TheatreWorks (Silicon Valley)

“Corey Fischer, best known as one of the founders of the Traveling Jewish Theatre, makes a rare appearance outside that troupe as the formidable Rebbe Saunders. A tower of gravitas with a white beard and a steely gaze, the Rebbe is so strict in his observance of tradition that he “excommunicates” anyone who doesn’t toe the line.” – Karen D’Souza, The Mercury News

“Corey Fischer commands the stage, even in silence. His delivery is bold, truth uncloaked, from the soul… “ – Clinton Stark, StarkInsider

“The rebbe — as played by the magnificent Corey Fischer of San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre — is a monumental, grizzled vision in a white-bearded, wild-eyed, God-like incarnate, and ultimately heartbreakingly human. Fischer’s no less than riveting.”   – SF Examiner


Death of a Salesman

“Most astonishing is the performance of TJT co-founder Corey Fischer as Willy Loman. It’s all there in his body, all the stubborn pride and insistent insecurities, his tall frame slumped and getting only more painfully hunched in on itself as the play goes on. You can hear it in his incessant, animated ramblings, whether talking to people actually in the room or those in his head. Seemingly without taking a breath, he slides from sputtering anger to swellings of garrulous pride that crumple as easily as they come. When he stoops to pick up his boss’ lighter, you can hear the air going out of not just him, but the entire room.” – Sam Hurwitt, East Bay Express

“Nearly 60 downwardly mobile years on, the Traveling Jewish Theater’s not-to-be-missed staging brings fresh attention and fine skill to the Jewish inflection in Miller’s American story, whose sheer ordinariness — its pitiful material distress, class shame, and wrenchingly anonymous sadness — still burns with indignation and rebuke. Indeed, for all its period charm (with Project Artaud’s capacious stage, under Jim Cave’s mood-laden lighting, turned into a blend of home and highway by scenic designer Giulio Cesare Perrone), the desperation feels utterly contemporary. TJT cofounder Corey Fischer leads director Aaron Davidman’s excellent cast with a stirring and memorable turn as Loman — a simultaneously hunched and towering figure of a man whose daydreams and memories (augmented here by composer-cellist Jessica Ivry’s wistful score) invade the action, dramatically dissolving the broken line between fiction and reality attendant on the American dream and an unraveling ego.” – Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian

2 X Malamud

“To mark its 29th anniversary, San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre has reclaimed its nomadic roots and launched its new season on the road.

“The acclaimed troupe opened its homage to Bernard Malamud, 2 x Malamud, over the past weekend at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. The company has staged The Magic Barrel and The Jewbird before, and its depth of commitment to the material has paid off handsomely. Both these one-acts have been burnished to the point of perfection, from their dreamlike tone to their whimsical props. Directed by Joel Mullennix and Sheila Balter, the exquisitely etched revivals show off the artistry of the acting company, as well as the richness of writer’s palette.

“Staged in the style of the Word for Word company, 2 x Malamud transposes these short stories verbatim from page to stage. The cast embodies every element in the text, from protagonists to passing clouds, as if each word, each pause, each punctuation were central to the theme. The technique forges an intimacy between the actors and the text, a magical sense of ritual incantation that casts a spell over the audience.

“Jeri Lynn Cohen, Max Gordon Moore and Traveling Jewish Theatre founder Corey Fischer etch the key characters in each story. Watching them metamorphose from piece to piece is part of the evening’s theatrical alchemy. The scope and depth of the acting gives us a glimpse into the breadth of Malamud’s art.

“In The Magic Barrel, Moore plays the twitchy rabbinical student Leo Finkle, desperately searching for a wife but scared to death of women. Enter the marriage broker, Pinye Salzman (the sublimely funny Fischer), who’s eager to make any match that will put a few pennies in his threadbare pockets. They eye each other warily across a dank New York hovel, bargaining over potential brides like so many baseball trading cards.

“The rapport of the actors with their characters cuts so deep that the play bristles with life and breathtaking eccentricity. The physical specificity of the performances is as acute as the cadence of the language.

“Finkle cowers under the covers of his bed, terrified of life. Salzman sucks the flesh off a tiny white fish like a starving alley cat. As the lonely Lily Hirschorn, Cohen radiates the brittle enthusiasm of a woman out to snatch a husband, driven by the fear that life is passing her by.

“It comes as a revelation to see these actors so utterly transformed in “The Jewbird,” a dark little parable about assimilation. If the characters in “The Magic Barrel” are steeped in the past, the figures in “The Jewbird” are hellbent on casting off the old ways.

“Respect for tradition is not in Harry Cohen’s (Moore) genes. A frozen-food salesman who pairs long black socks with khaki shorts and a fat cigar, Harry has an ego as large as his belly. Moore puffs himself up with the bluster and pomposity of a man who would deny someone else their right to their ethnicity.

“In this instance, Harry takes on the black crow who flies into his Bronx apartment on threadbare wings. His name is Schwartz (Fischer), and he’s a herring-eating, prayer-chanting black bird seeking asylum for a world with no refuge for those who want to keep the old customs.

“The bird says he’s on the run from anti-Semites, which earns him the pity and kindness of Harry’s wife, Edie (a graceful turn by Cohen), and their son, Morrie (Tamar Cohn). But not Harry. He responds to Schwartz’s neediness with, first, disdain and, then, brutality.

“Huddled in the corner, fearful of both Harry and the ravenous family cat, Fischer’s bird is as ornery as he is wretched. The actor turns him into a tragicomic figure, a cross between an old vaudeville ham and a latter-day Lear, yearning for shelter from the storm but unwilling to sacrifice his integrity until the end. The gravitas the actor brings to this role elevates the fantastical fable into a melancholy meditation on identity.

“The upshot: A Traveling Jewish Theater cast a literary spell on its audience with a magical evening of Malamud.”  – Karen D’Souza, Mercury News

2004 Dybbuk, Bruce Myers’ adaptation for two actors directed by Corey Fischer

Reviewed by Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian

In the sure hands of director and TJT cofounder Corey Fischer – veteran of the play’s New York City premiere as well as two previous TJT productions – Dybbuk’s marvelously pure theatricality, its synthesis of modern and traditional forms, marks the company’s milestone [25th anniversary season] with a fitting illumination of the very nature and import of storytelling.

2003 Windows and Mirrors, a co-production with Word for Word, Directed by David Dower.  Reviewed by Lisa Drostova in The East Bay Express

When the nameless narrator of the Grace Paley story “Wants” takes back her overdue books to the library and learns that her fines are $32 and eighteen years old, we get the hint that this story might have some magical qualities. Undaunted, the narrator writes a check for the fines, and then checks the books right back out because she finds them more relevant than ever. Thus begins a wildly entertaining capsule version of one woman’s life, where time moves in odd ways, marked not so much by years as by the growth of children, the length of a marriage, the duration of the war in Vietnam, and the inevitability of library fines. Surrounded by her ex-husband and a swirl of other characters cleverly suggested by just two actors, the narrator wishes she had been organized enough to return her books on time, or strong enough to stop a war. While it’s a funny story to begin with, it’s even better in the hands of Naomi Newman and Corey Fischer, founding members of A Traveling Jewish Theatre, who drew a laugh at the performance I saw simply by taking the stage as the audience settled in to be delighted.

“Wants” is the first of four short pieces that make up Windows and Mirrors, the new collaboration between the San Francisco companies Word for Word and A Traveling Jewish Theatre, which make an all-too-brief East Bay appearance this weekend at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. Like 2000’s production of Goodbye and Good Luck and The Jewbird, Windows and Mirrors features short stories by Jewish-American writers Bernard Malamud and Grace Paley. And this time the two companies have thrown the postmodern German-Jewish writer Maxim Biller and his audacious “Finkelstein’s Fingers” into the mix.

Bernard Malamud spent many years writing about men who have difficulty making themselves heard, whether it’s the dueling writer Tenants of the novel of the same name; Cold War-era Russian writer Levitansky, who fears that his soul will die if his work never sees print, in “Man in the Drawer”; or Calvin Cohn from “God’s Grace,” as the only man to survive nuclear annihilation, who must now learn to communicate with a chimp. In “Spring Rain,” written just before WWII, the protagonist, George (Fischer), can’t tell his wife or daughter how he really feels about them. Whether having that ability would help his relationships is questionable. When he looks at his daughter, Florence, he thinks about what a disappointment she has been to him. Meanwhile, staging in which a hard post and an equally hard wall represent George and his wife’s respective beds says much about the marriage. Tormented by sleeplessness, George muses on male loneliness, a concern that he learns he shares with Florence’s introspective boyfriend Paul when the two men take a spontaneous walk through the revitalizing spring rain of the title. Sweet for Malamud and elegiac in tone, “Spring Rain” is primarily Fischer’s vehicle, and he restrains his big physical presence to create an intimate, sad character. A Traveling Jewish Theatre newcomer Michael Smith plays Paul, and the weight of things unsaid between the two is palpable.

The staging on “A Conversation With My Father,” the second Paley piece, is so well thought out that it’s almost hard to imagine the work in its original form. Here the narrator and Paley double (Newman) wrangles with her bedridden father (Fischer) over a short story she has written at his request. She writes about a woman who has become a junkie to keep her similarly addicted son company, but no matter what angle the author takes, her father isn’t pleased with it. Here, the fictional mother and son are exuberantly acted out by Karine Koret and Smith, who step out of the world of the story to hover around the sickbed, silently as anxious to please the old man as the protagonist. The conceit is funny and the payoff thought-provoking, and the lively movement of the story within the story contrasts well with the limited blocking of the writer and her father.

While all three writers are Jewish, the word doesn’t even come up until well after the intermission, in “Finkelstein’s Fingers.” There, Maxim Biller gleefully tramples his way through a nothing-sacred take on the Holocaust that features three contemporary characters — Anita, the grown German daughter of Nazi collaborators; her Jewish-American creative writing professor; and a young German-Jewish author she seduces into writing a story she plans to turn in as her own. Biller is described in the program notes as an enfant terrible, but given how unremittingly grim much of the Holocaust canon is, I found his writing refreshing and bold. In “Finkelstein’s Fingers,” it’s as if someone has opened a door to let all that guilt- and grief-stained air flow out. There’s humor and mystery and surpassing sexual attraction in the story, none of which usually make it into representations of the Holocaust or its aftermath.

Biller’s audacity has resulted in him being compared to Philip Roth, which is amusing since he has Finkelstein write in an e-mail that a sexual moment in “Anita’s” play is reminiscent of “Miller, Bukowski, and Roth — all of whom, by the way, I consider impostors.” Then Finkelstein pushes away from the computer and quips, in very Rothian fashion, that he’s had enough masturbation lately and could use some real sex.

Newman and Fischer work at a fever pitch in this one, the former playing Anita as a slinky, predatory dame in an oversized leopard hat, the latter running his fingers through the air clownishly as he types. This time, Koret and Smith are the more stable presences. The film noirish story might make your head spin, since Professor Finkelstein, the young author, and the obscure Hungarian writer that Anita must profile may or may not be the same person. There’s enough ambiguity that the audience is left guessing up to the very end.

The combination of Traveling Jewish Theatre and Word for Word is an excellent one that builds upon each company’s considerable strengths. The depth of Traveling Jewish Theatre’s quarter-century of experience and dedication to innovative movement techniques meshes well with Word for Word’s love affair with text and its possibilities. Both companies’ missions — A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s commitment to warm, inclusive theater and Word for Word’s sneaky plan to inspire us to read more of an author’s work — are well-served in this funny, whirling production.

2002 Opening to You. By Corey Fischer and the ensemble, adapted from Norman Fischer’s translations of the Psalms. Directed by Corey Fischer

Reviewed by Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle

Those who seek it may find religious solace in the most unexpected places, but few would think to look in a hostile, sterile office environment — let alone in an INS-style interrogation. Part of what’s fascinating about A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s “Opening to You” derives from that kind of unexpected originality. Much of the intense pleasure also comes from the skills of the performers and beauty of the language.

Conceived and directed by company cofounder Corey Fischer, “Opening” is a dramatic interpretation and exploration of the biblical book of Psalms, based on the recently published new translation by Zen Buddhist priest Norman Fischer (no relation to the director). Corey Fischer and his cast have mixed in stories from their lives and family lore that personalizes the material and lends it dramatic shape and substance.

“Opening” opened Monday at the beginning of an unusually busy week for the 23-year-old company. A revival of “God’s Donkey,” its 2000 piece about Moses (also directed by Fischer), opened Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Its hit production of “The Chosen,” adapted from Chaim Potok’s novel — staged by new artistic director Aaron Davidman, who co-created and performs in “God’s Donkey” — reopens its extended run Thursday at the Magic Theatre.

The new piece features a new look for the company, framing one of the group’s more unique forms of storytelling — in which evocative associations emerge through implied emotional, musical or thematic connections rather than straightforward narrative. Giulio Cesare Perrone’s set is a Wooster Group-like construct of suspended mesh screens and elongated tables covered with stacks of paper, with the floor and walls painted a broad black-and-white checkerboard pattern that dissolves in the distance.

Lights and the ropes and pulleys that raise and lower the screens and tables are in full view, making an intensely focused stage manager, Jessica Jelliffe, an important part of the action. Composer Daniel Hoffman performs onstage, his rich guitar, violin and percussion score adding emotional depth and interacting with the actors (the show begins with a nasty interrogation of his oud, a type of lute).

The key to Fischer’s approach is a conception of the Psalms as poetry in search of God (the “You” of the title) by oppressed people in exile. Seeking to ground that quest in an accessibly modern foundation, he cast actors with experiences of marginalization, displacement or oppression — disabled activist-performer David Roche, South Asian immigrant Annie Kunjappy (artistic director of Strangefruit Theatre Ensemble) and African American actor Lee Williams, later replaced by Rhonnie Washington — all of whose personal and family stories are interwoven in the text.

The setup is an office staffed by three bored, paper-pushing interrogators – – each of whom at some point receives guitar-telephone instructions to grill one of the others. Robotic, repetitive movement passages etch the depersonalized atmosphere. Harsh, staccato questioning yields moving and painful tales.

Roche describes his anguish at being probed and examined as an object by doctors and medical students, even while secretly welcoming the rare luxury of a gentle touch. Washington re-creates a child’s humiliation at the drinking fountains in segregated Texas and tells heart-wrenching tales of slavery and of a visit to the ruins of Nagasaki. Kunjappy’s immigration hearing climaxes in a searing visual image of the brutality of interrogation.

Norman Fischer’s beautifully plain-spoken translations give lyrical voice to the anguish and anger of the dispossessed: “I am envious of the high and mighty”; “I will be careful lest I err with my tongue”; “How can we sing our songs on stranger’s soil?” Fugue-like arrangements of shards of Psalms alternate with extended passages — some compellingly sung in Washington’s resonant baritone, one expressed by Kunjappy in flowing sign language.

“Opening” has its slow passages and some that don’t quite connect, especially in the early scenes. But its tales of grief and dispossession create a deep connection with an audience seeking answers in troubled times, and its resolute quest for faith and for solace develops a moving momentum as David Robertson’s stark lighting gives way to golden glows. In the end, “Opening” moves through anger at injustice to praise for the glories of nature and of life itself. In its resolution, it resonates with common chords of humanity and joy.

2001 See Under: LOVE by Corey Fischer, directed by Naomi Newman 

More Than a Holocaust Drama, ‘Love’ a bold look at depths of heart”

Review by Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle

Deep in his own dark night of the soul, an Israeli novelist wrestles with the enormity of the Holocaust. Locked in a Nazi concentration camp, an old man spins fantastical tales for the amusement of the camp commandant. Hidden in the deserted Warsaw Zoo, a band of intrepid children’s-story heroes faces an evil greater than its members can begin to comprehend.

One story exists fitfully within another in “See Under: LOVE,” Corey Fischer’s astonishing new drama that opened Monday at A Traveling Jewish Theatre. Adapted from Israeli writer David Grossman’s epic 1989 novel (as translated by Betsy Rosenberg), the 2 1/2-hour play pits fact against fancy, imagination against the imaginative faculty, to probe the nature of human good and evil.

More than a Holocaust play — though “Love” is certainly that — it’s a captivatingly creative but bracingly bold look into the depths of the heart where the vengeful fury of the victim meets the humanity of the torturer.

Its intricate stories-within-stories structure is uniquely suited to the troupe’s story-theater style. Director Naomi Newman makes inventive use of seven terrific actors, a puppet (a striking man-baby creation by Dennis Ludlow, vividly manipulated by Joan Mankin) and a few boards to depict everything from a train or BMW to a time machine. A dolefully suggestive score and bracing sound effects by Albert Greenberg (co-founder of the company with Fischer and Newman) anchor the action and enlarge the themes.

The raw bulk of the concentration camp looms over the writer Momik Neuman’s book-crammed study in Richard Olmsted’s simply eloquent set. There, Aaron Davidman’s gentle but driven Neuman is trying to write the story of “the Nazi Beast” his survivor parents tried to hide from him as a child — so obsessed that he doesn’t see how badly he’s neglecting his wife (a patient but fed-up Mankin) and child.

Neuman conjures the story of his interned great-uncle Anshel Wasserman (played with stunning stolid weariness and pain by Mark Samuels), a successful Polish Jewish writer of children’s books under the name Scheherazade. Like his namesake, Wasserman strikes a bargain with his captor, camp commandant Kurt Neigel (Norbert Weisser). But in an “Arabian Nights” reversal, Wasserman demands that Neigel kill him at the end of each installment. No matter how many times he’s gassed or shot, the old fabulist can’t die.

The versatile Mankin, Helen Stoltzfus, Julian Lopez-Morillas and Robert Sicular play the ragged prisoners (in Todd Roehrman’s apt costumes) who morph into the heartbreakingly sincere heroes of Wasserman’s “Children of the Heart” books. Stymied to find themselves grown old in the Nazi-ravaged Warsaw Ghetto, the committed righters of wrongs must face a more personal tragedy: The story of a baby who will mature, grow old and die within a single day as told by Wasserman as imagined by Neuman. Meanwhile, the magnetic Weisser takes us relentlessly into the conflicted heart of the Nazi officer.

This is tough stuff — beatings, rape, repeated gunshots to the head — so vividly enacted that it’s irresistible. What remains a little unsatisfactory is Fischer’s treatment of Neuman, particularly in regard to his own family, but for that one may need to read Grossman’s novel. This adaptation makes you not only hunger to read the book but fearful and exhilarated by the prospect of doing so.

In related events, Grossman and Fischer are featured in the City Arts and Lectures series tonight at Herbst Theatre (Grossman will speak at a Holocaust Literature Conference on Friday at the University of California at Santa Cruz and at an all-day symposium, “The Future of the Holocaust: Storytelling, Oppression and Identity,” Sunday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.)

Top 10 theater events of 2001, SF Chronicle

Corey Fischer, “See Under: LOVE,” February, a Traveling Jewish Theatre. One story spins fitfully inside another in Fischer’s Holocaust drama, a bracingly bold plunge into the depths of the heart where the vengeful fury of the victim confronts the humanity of the torturer.

2000 God’s Donkey: A Play on Moses

Reviewed by Joe Mader in the SF Weekly

Director Corey Fischer and performers Eric Rhys Miller and Aaron Davidman collaborate with composer Daniel Hoffman (who plays violin, guitar, and percussion) to bring humor, taste, and talent to their lucid rendering of a complex relationship with God. On Richard Olmsted’s abstract and deceptively expansive set, spattered with browns, beiges, oranges, and hints of red, Rhys Miller and Davidman use movement, song, and comedy to spin a new version of Genesis and Exodus. The props are minimal: rocks, a swath of burlap serving as a mother’s skirt or an infant’s swaddling clothes, a long bolt of blue cloth that flows from Moses’ princely robes into a representation of the Nile, and wooden staffs, one of which transforms into a snake. Fischer and his co-creators focus on Moses’ journey, and thus on his life. The Ten Commandments and the Golden Calf are obliquely mentioned. Davidman’s Moses is a gentle, shy stammerer, chosen by God to do something for which he feels himself unfit. And Rhys Miller is astonishing. Whether portraying God (a sunglasses-wearing hepcat who sings both Hebrew songs and the blues), the imperious Pharaoh, a burning bush, a put-upon, skeptical slave building the Pyramids, or one of many others, his body radiates, his focus exact and consuming. Singing in Hebrew, his voice is ethereal and holy; growling out God’s bluesy songs, he summons a deeper, more complicated energy. Hoffman’s gorgeous music borrows from jazz, klezmer, folk, and avant-garde, creating a multitude of moods and emotions, as does Olmsted’s graceful lighting. At play’s end, Rhys Miller removes his glasses, no longer God but not quite man, and carries Moses’ corpse on into the darkness. He could be representing faith and all its complications. It’s breathtaking. 

God’s Donkey Reviewed by Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle [excerpt]

Weary and weak, Moses gazes from the top of Mount Nebo at the land God is promising to bestow on the wandering Israelites. He’s dazzled at the vast expanse of green, fertile land — until, his eyes widening in surprised anger, he exclaims: “I see dwellings . . . How can you promise us this land? People live there!”

As uttered by Aaron Davidman’s potent, skeptically obedient Moses — just before Eric Rhys Miller’s arrogantly inscrutable God pulls the last breath from his body — the protest brings “God’s Donkey (a play on Moses)” to a resonant, provocatively prophetic conclusion. It’s the last of many bracing twists in A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s version of one of the greatest stories ever told.

Developed by Davidman, Miller and director Corey Fischer with a rich fiddle, blues and cantorial score by Daniel Hoffman, “Donkey” was Davidman’s first project with the company — nationally known as TJT — he now serves as artistic director. It’s toured widely since it opened in 2000 (and will again in the fall). Small wonder.

1998  Diamonds in the Dark: A Celebration of Yiddish Poetry

The sound of home: A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s new production reopens a book of poetry. By Brad Rosenstein, SF Bay Guardian

ASIDE FROM the occasional enlivening word thrown into conversation, the Yiddish I grew up with consisted primarily of the guttural syllables my grandparents lapsed into when they didn’t want us to understand their conversation. It was the language of secrets, a deliberately closed book. So it feels entirely fitting that A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s new ensemble work, Diamonds in the Dark: A Celebration of Yiddish Poetry, should serve to reopen both that book and the company’s renovated theater: this is a homecoming in many senses.

First, of course, it’s a homecoming to language. The piece consists of poems by 15 noted Yiddish poets working with a wide range of methods and themes, from Rebbe Levi Yitzhok’s astounding “dudele” (“The You-Song”), a beat poem from the 18th century, to Irena Klepfisz’s ironic, contemporary “A Few Words in the Mother Tongue.” Director Helen Stoltzfus and the ensemble of Albert Greenberg, Naomi Newman, and Corey Fischer have deftly selected and arranged the poems to tell a story about the need for words, and particularly about how Yiddish continues to serve Jews as an ideal medium of emotional expression, the nourishing constant of a people for whom “language is the only homeland.”

All the poems are performed bilingually, the patterns and voicing of each piece determined with great dramatic sensitivity. Supplementing the overwhelming music of the language itself are Greenberg’s musical settings, which create a subtle dreamscape in which the poems come alive. The actors handle the English-Yiddish transpositions and the emotional quick-changes with aplomb, and Newman is extraordinary throughout, especially in the harrowing tale of Fradel Schtok, a poet going mad in the space between two languages.

Choreographer Stephen Pelton has provided adept movement direction, and the entire evening is graceful and immensely satisfying. This is the finest work I’ve seen ATJT do in years: mature, elegant, playful — a perfect match of the material and the company’s vibrantly theatrical aesthetic. It’s a pleasure to see ATJT back in form, and to receive this show’s artful reassurance that home may be no farther away than the tip of the tongue.

1996 Forgiving Waters (written and performed by Corey Fischer, directed by Naomi Newman)

Reviewed for the SF Examiner by Robert Hurwitt


A MOTHER’S death and a father’s loss of memory are not inherently theatrical events. Private griefs are often best kept private. But in Corey Fischer’s “Forgiving Waters,” which opened Saturday in A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s small theater at Project Artaud, they become the building blocks for a deeply moving, intensely lyrical, lovingly uplifting work of art.

Written and performed by Fischer, and staged with sublime simplicity by fellow ATJT co-founder Naomi Newman, “Waters” is highly personal in the story it has to tell. Centered around the moment of his mother’s death, and his visit a month later to help his disoriented 90-year-old father move into a new, smaller apartment, it’s both an elegy for the woman who bore him and a tribute to the man who can no longer remember his relationship to either one of them.

By the end of its 50 minutes, Fischer’s “Waters” has not only plumbed its emotional depths with rare honesty, grace and humor. It’s also succeeded in transmuting the intensely personal through the universality of art.

1995 Sometimes We Need a Story More than Food (written and performed by Corey Fischer, directed by Helen Stoltzfus)

“Riveting” – San Francisco Examiner

“A rare and satisfying performance” – Seattle Weekly

“A poetic physicality that exalts the spoken word in new ways.” – SF Weekly