Off-Broadway Review: “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz”

David Roberts

OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle

In two thirty-five-minute acts, playwright James Inverne attempts to convince the audience that “music helped Israel find its cultural identity during its formative years.” In the first short act that takes place in 1926, Yehuda Sharett (Yuval Boim), a “kibbutznik from the Ukraine” and advocate for a Jewish homeland, takes a walk with Jascha Heifetz (Adam Green) and engages the virtuoso violinist in a conversation about making music and the importance of music to the identity of a people and country. After listening carefully, Heifetz suggests that Yehuda go to Berlin “where [the great composers] eat and drink and breathe music. And it’s full of Jewish musicians. German Jews there are living a great new dream.”

During this first act, violinist Mariella Haubs struts across the stage counterpointing the conversation between Yehuda and Jascha. Although it is not clear why the onstage violinist is needed, her presence and playing are more pleasant than Mr. Inverne’s dialogue between the two men.

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In the second short act that takes place in 1946 in Yehuda’s house at Kibbutz Yagur, Yehuda’s brother Moshe Sharett (Erik Lochtfeld) visits to both console Yehuda and urge him to return to “making music.” Yehuda’s wife Tzivia, his sister Rivka and her daughter died in a car crash and Yehuda has not been able to recover from his overwhelming grief. The conversation quickly turns to thirty-five minutes of political rhetoric about the importance of the formation of the State of Israel. The play is no longer about authentic and realistic characters; rather, underdeveloped characters become conduits for a playwright’s polemic. Even though Moshe urges Yehuda to “find the music to bring you through this. Find once again the harmony that can make life make sense for you,” this compassion dissolves into a logos driven diatribe.

Although “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz is more docudrama than drama, Mr. Inverne chooses not to document the complexities of the Jewish migration into Palestine under British rule, complexities which continue to exist in the present. Obviously, this was not the purpose of his play; however, this omission leaves the audience with only a partial understanding of the development of the State of Israel and the continued absence of a Palestinian State.

That said, “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” does not allow the actors or the director (Andrew Leynse) to exercise their craft within the parameters of a satisfying dramatic arc that provides a cathartic resolution.

A WALK WITH MR. HEIFETZ

The cast of “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” features Yuval Boim, Adam Green, Mariella Haubs, and Erik Lochtefeld.

The creative team for “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” includes Wilson Chin (scenic design), Jen Caprio (costume design), John Froelich (lighting design), and M. L. Dogg (sound design). Michael V. Mendelson serves as production stage manager. Production photos by James Leynse.

“A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday March 4, 2018. For further information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Yuval Boim, Mariella Haubs, and Adam Green in “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz.” Credit: James Leynse.