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The Mar Vista

Yehuda Hyman (featured male), 
 Amanda Schussel                     Photos by Napoleon Gladney

                                            By R. Pikser

The Mar Vista is the neighborhood of Los Angeles where Yehuda Hyman, the creator of this piece, grew up.  The Mar Vista is a tale of Hymanís parents, primarily his beautiful mother and how, after her travels from Eastern Europe, through Turkey, and after many love affairs, she came to settle down with a tailor in Cincinnati.  We never learn about Los Angeles.  

The piece starts out with a monolog by Mr. Hyman, reflecting on the Hamsa, or the Jewish version of the Middle Eastern symbol of the palm of the right hand, a charm against the evil eye.  The next section of the piece is about Mr. Hymanís mother, lithely danced by Amanda Schussel, but told mainly in the third person by Mr. Hyman.  In between the acting out of various love affairs, there are sessions of what seems to be either an acting class or therapy sessions.  The final section of the piece introduces us to the painfully shy, almost completely silent tailor, performed by Ron Kagan who marries Mr. Hymanís mother just as her visa to stay in the United States is due to expire.

Mr. Hymanís mime is precise and cuts to the heart of what he wants to express.  His sense of humor realizes itself in many amusing moments as he mimes, or as the other actors perform his mime, for example during the motherís long journey across Russia to Turkey moving from one conveyance to another.  This same telling precision was lacking in much of the text.  For example, it would have been helpful to know what the Hamsa is supposed to represent before being taken on a tour of the elements of the five fingers and their relevance to Passover.  The performers, especially Mr. Hyman and Ms. Schussel, move well and from time to time the bodies make interesting sculptures.  But most of the choreography at this point in the development of the piece is vague and devolves into swirls that could mean anything, but evoke nothing.  The contrast in realization of the mime and the dance points up the excellence of the one and the lacks in the other.  

The character of the mother is reduced to her affairs with various men which, of course, is Mr. Hymanís privilege, but rather limits what we learn of the mother.  The detailing of these affairs may give us a hint of one aspect of who she is, but the various men lack definition and become easily confused.  Perhaps, if they are not going to be developed, they could be collapsed.  Additionally, if the acrors are going to speak, they must be intelligible.  If words are worth saying, and some of these words are quite poetic, they are worth hearing.  The lack of enunciation meant that one was always straining to hear, even in this intimate theater.  One must admit that this problem is present in most theater these days and that the distracting body mikes that performers wear do not make up for vocal technique.  In this piece, it was only during Mr. Kaganís delicately performed description of love as embodied by the dress the tailor has made for the mother, a dress that recalls the sensuality of her first love,that we could clearly hear and relax into the words, allowing them to transport us and to resonate with other parts of the piece. This moment of beauty should be the standard for the rest of the piece.

The Mar Vista
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's KulturfestNYC
June 11th-14th, 2015
The 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street
New York
Tickets $18 - $22.50