Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Contributing Critic
For the audience, going to the theater guarantees that they’ll see plenty of comedy or drama occurring onstage. For the artists, however, the most memorable comedy and drama often tends to occur backstage. I always enjoy plays that are able to humorously depict these types of situations, and judging by the audience reactions, it seems I’m not the only one who thought that Prague, 1912 (the Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre) – now playing at Theater for the New City – managed to accomplish that.
Written by Lu Hauser, the play tells the story of a Yiddish acting troupe, their behind-the-scenes creative process, and how they are able to get by more by selling baked potatoes than by selling tickets to their unconventional productions. Through the eyes of our three characters – actors Jaky Lowy and Mme. Trassik and writer Gregor Samsa – we are treated to a backstage comedy that leaves us laughing frequently, over the course of the night.
While this play takes place a century ago, much of its humor is still relatable to those of us who’ve been in theatre – either as actors, directors or playwrights – who may have been witnesses or been part of backstage situations similar as those which – while clearly exaggerated, for comedic effect – are represented in this play. If you’ve spent enough time working in theatre at any level, from community theatre to Broadway, then you will probably know what I’m talking about after seeing this play.
Under the direction of the late Ms. Hauser’s frequent collaborator George Ferencz, the play is wonderfully staged, in a way that gives the actors the opportunity to shine and display their comedic talents. The set design was also very impressive and colorful, and the lighting and sound effects help set the mood of the play. The sound effect that clearly stands out is the live cornet played over the course of the play.
The main highlight of the production, however, is the three lead actors who bring the play to life in such a lively and animated fashion. Starring Jenne Vath as Mme. Trassik, John Barilla as Jak Lowy and Jason Howard as Gregor Samsa, the energy and physical comedy of the actors is a big reason why this production is so successful, and why much of the audience was laughing so much over the course of the show.
If I had any issues with the show, I think it might have been nice to see a bit more toward the end, whether that means adding a little more to the last scene or two or adding an entirely new scene. Nonetheless, this did not detract from what was a very funny and pleasing show. The play was very well-written and the actors did a wonderful job at bringing it to life. If you need a good laugh, especially if you’re someone in theatre who can relate to aspects of this play, be sure to check it out.
“Prague, 1912" runs at Theater for the New City from November 9th to 26th. For more information, please visit www.jsnyc.com/season/Prague1912.htm.
Photo: From L to R: John Barilla as Jak Lowy & Jason Howard as Gregor Samsa. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.