Originally produced by Traveling Jewish Theatre in 1980 and now revived to lead off its 30th-anniversary season, the production is aptly peripatetic in structure as well as theme: two actors in vaudevillian comic getup (artistic director Aaron Davidman and TJT cofounder Corey Fischer, also the play's cocreator and half of the original cast) roam about a limbolike white-on-white set scattered with occasional detritus, most particularly and strikingly a pyramidal display at the far left of the stage on which a mound of books lie in disarray. The actors eventually mount a low stage within the stage, behind a row of modest footlights composed of painted tin cans, and amid knowing cornball lines they announce that they are speaking in "Yiddish" accents, despite not knowing Yiddish, so that the audience will recognize their Yankee selves as Jews.
What follows is a reclamation of the language as a search for identity and authenticity, in several dramatic and musical modes and moods and in struggle with manifold forces of history, from assimilation to persecution to the blunt inconstancy of time itself. Director, cocreator, and TJT cofounder Naomi Newman admits in her program notes that reentering the play after many years was not as easy as expected. Much has changed with respect to the place of Yiddish in Jewish lives. There is a quality of hesitation in the updated staging, which undermines some of its poignancy, although the awkwardness disappears at key moments, including Fischer's hulking, half-masked portrayal of Nakhman the rebbe known for contributions spiritual and literary in Yiddish and second-generation TJT artist Davidman's channeling of formerly unfamiliar Yiddish verses, in what amounts to an act of possession in at least two senses. *
JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE
Through Dec. 14
Tues. and Fri., 8 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs. (except Nov. 27) and Sat., 2 (except Sat/22 and Dec. 11) and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.; $13.50$71
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk.
THE LAST YIDDISH POET
Through Dec. 14
Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $30$34
Traveling Jewish Theatre