Presented by and at Manhattan Ensemble Theater, 55 Mercer St. (at Broome St.), NYC, April 1-May 12.
The Golem has long been a figure of Jewish folklore, dating back to the Middle Ages, when a rabbi of Prague formed a creature out of clay. The Jewish Frankenstein, if you will. It was a bad time for the Jews, accused of using the blood of Christian babies to make their Passover matzos. False accusations ran rampant, giving way to torture and murder. The search for a savior grew out of desperate need, and the rabbi's monster became that dark savior.
Manhattan Ensemble Theater has turned the timeless legend into a modern version, with MET Artistic Director David Fishelson basing his adaptation on H. Leivick's 1921 Yiddish classic and using Joseph C. Landis' English translation. The play focuses on the moral issue of retribution. Is it right—or indeed, is it effective—to meet violence with more violence? A timely subject, given the current escalating violence in the Middle East.
Expectations for this production were high, based on MET's remarkable track record. The young company (now in its second year) has already produced two outstanding pieces—"The Idiots" last year and "The Castle" earlier this season, both magnificent achievements—in keeping with the company's mandate to adapt literary classics.
But "The Golem," alas, falls short of expectations. The fault lies mainly with actor Robert Prosky, who plays the Prague rabbi. Prosky never gets into the role, mouthing his lines like an automaton (at least the night we attended). Ironically, it is the Golem itself (played by Joseph McKenna) who invests the tale with humanity. Prosky's flat performance keeps the audience at a distance throughout the first half, and it is only when McKenna takes over that the tale exudes energy and passion—and, indeed, tragedy.
There is fine supporting work from Lynn Cohen and Rosemary Garrison as the rabbi's wife and daughter, respectively. And Beowulf Boritt's set, Michael Chybowski's lighting, and Daniel Levy's music, all highly effective, help to create the menacing medieval milieu.