The New Yiddish Rep’s (David Mandelbaum, artistic director) production of the Yiddish language Di Froyen (The Women) is a bittersweet, anger-inducing portrait of modern day Chasidic women caught between orthodox Jewish ideology and the rush of modern society’s laws and attitudes into their lives.
Adapted by Malky Goldman and Melissa Weisz from Naomi Regan’s Women’s Minyan, Di Froyen, in one compact, tense hour, opens up a previously secret world to the public. Here are six women, all wearing sheitels (wigs that orthodox Jewish women must wear because showing their own hair is proscribed by religious law) and all under immense pressure from within and without their enclave.
Five women have gathered in a comfortable, slightly messy apartment for the homecoming of Pessa Leah (a strong, almost noble Melissa Weisz, also co-author) who, two years before, abandoned her husband Yankel and her children. The why of this desertion has been the subject of cruel gossip which has turned Pessa Leah into a monstrous, shunned figure in her community and her immediate family.
She is accompanied by Victoria Lewis (Amy Coleman, playing the cultural outsider with warmth and humor), a social worker who is present to enforce a court order allowing Pessa Leah to regain visiting rights to her children whom her sadistic ex-husband Yankel has, through the power of a Rabbinical decree, prevented her from seeing.
Pessa Leah’s daughter Mimi (Dylan Seder Hoffman, beautifully transforming herself into a mensch by the end of the play) is the unhappy, discontented mother of a large brood of children. She has grieved for her wayward mother. Her sister-in-law Hindy is portrayed by Lori Leifer who makes the most of an outburst towards the end of the play.
The characters also include the well-meaning neighbor Beyla, the resident yenta and the closest thing this play has to comic relief. Caraid O’Brien plays her as borderline annoying yet tolerable.
Pessa Leah’s mother, Malke Blum, is played by Suzanne Toren with a fine combination of fiery rage and icy coolness as she spews insults at her daughter. The role of the mother of the absent Yankel, Reyzy, is taken by the more composed Rachel Botchan whose fierce fidelity to religious orthodoxy is shaken by the play’s end. Botchan gives an impressive performance.
Dark secrets which split the families are revealed as the conversation zigzags from cool to heated.
What’s most fascinating about Di Froyen is watching the interplay of the excellent cast of women, ably directed by Botchan, as they nimbly shift the power center from character to character without losing any dramatic rhythm or integrity.
Alex Bartenieff’s lighting is functional. Michael Burgos’ sound design contribution is most evident when the hateful cries of an angry crowd are heard as the apartment door is opened.
Di Froyen uses very clear supertitle translations of the Yiddish dialogue.
Di Froyen (The Women) (January 22 – 30, 2022)
New Yiddish Rep
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: one hour without an intermission