My schedule over the past week included a world premiere of a “dystopian classic” play and a festival celebrating the Borscht Belt. An odd assortment to be sure, but you know what they …
My schedule over the past week included a world premiere of a “dystopian classic” play and a festival celebrating the Borscht Belt. An odd assortment to be sure, but you know what they say: Catskills, thy name means diversity.
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not true.” According to Wikipedia, “the meaning of the name (‘cat creek [kill]’ in Dutch) and the ‘namer’ (early Dutch explorers) are settled matters, but how and why the area is named ‘Catskills’ is a mystery.”
Perhaps Sullivan County Historian John Conway can fill me in, but I won’t pull at that thread right now. I do know that the word “diversity” means “a variety or assortment,” so at least that seems accurate.
Honestly, the idea of seeing a play based on a banned book that inspired Orwell’s “1984,” and hailed as “one of the most important dystopias of the twentieth century” didn’t thrill me. But when I discussed the River Rep Theatre’s new production beforehand with Narrowsburg’s own Kyoshin Lohr, she advised me to have an open mind. “Besides,” she added, “I hear [producer/writer/director] Christopher Peditto is the real deal.”
“I can’t argue with that,” I responded. “His credentials are impressive, but do we really need another theatre company in Sullivan County?”
“Of course we do,” Kyoshin shot back. “My mother always said, ‘Good theatre breeds good theatre,’ and she was right.”
I don’t care for reviewing plays that have come and gone, but am rarely at a loss for words, so I’ll say this: the staging was cool and the actors were all quite good. Included were a few standout performances from Will Thames, Sophia Claire Smith, Peter Sansbury, Arthur Aulisi and Lisa Gonsalves.
I don’t want to say that I didn’t understand the story, because I did, but I didn’t really “get” it. Is it a cautionary tale that stands the test of time? Maybe, but it was depressing and hardly a walk in the park—nor was it meant to be.
In light of River Rep Theatre’s dedication to “presenting innovative group-generated plays and bold new adaptations of classics,” that goal is well met, and I have to agree with Kyoshin’s mom. Peditto is the real deal, and I’ll be keeping an eye on him and what appears to be a bright future for the company here in the Upper Delaware River region.
On Saturday, I placed a block of ice and a battery-operated fan in the dog stroller (don’t judge!) and schlepped (that means “dragged”) That Dog Named Gidget to Ellenville, NY and the first-ever Borscht Belt Festival, which quite simply blew me away.
Was I verklempt (that means “emotional”) over the vendors, the entertainment and the roster of events presented during the festival? Oy! Don’t ask!
Although the grand opening of the new Borscht Belt Museum is still a ways off, those in attendance got a sneak peek at an impressive pop-up version, and the building itself is historic. It’s the old Home National Bank, described in the brochure as a “1928 neo-Georgian gem that has strong links to the Borscht Belt era as one of the few financial institutions willing to lend to the Jewish hoteliers and bungalow colony owners in the early 20th century.”
The festival itself, touted as “comedy, cuisine and culture in the Catskills,” did not disappoint, and I managed to catch a little bit of each, while running into familiar punims (that means “faces”), including festival organizers and museum board members Peter Alan Chester and Robin Cohen Kauffman, both of whom are incredibly haimish (that means “unpretentious”).
I saw a slide-show presentation, caught an act or two on the outdoor stage, and sampled some of the delicious fare offered throughout downtown Ellenville, although some schmendrick (that means “fool”) pointed out there was “no borscht to be found.” Gevalt. (That means “dismay, pain, shock.”)
“I know, I know; it’s hot and we’re all schvitzing,” Catskills royalty, singer Patti Greco Sunshine, said to the crowd as she set out to perform an incomparable set of musical standards. “That’s what I love about Yiddish; it’s so descriptive.”
I nodded in agreement with Patti, who echoed the sentiment of so many.
“It’s almost impossible to equate one word for another,” she explained in between musical numbers, “because Yiddish expresses so much more than a literal translation. Schvitzing doesn’t simply mean sweating,” Patti said to the audience as they fanned themselves in the midday sun. “It means rivers of sweat pouring off of us, coursing down our cheeks, making us drenched and miserable.”
All except my dog of course, who was stretched out on her icy throne, in between giving out kisses to museum VP Kauffman. When asked if the festival would be back, Robin assured me that it would. “Oh, yes,” she said, clearly thrilled at the turnout. “We couldn’t be happier. Now that we have a building, we wanted people to know that the Borscht Belt Museum is happening and we’re here. This is the real deal.”
For more on River Rep Theatre, which is in residence at the Delaware Valley Opera Center, visit www.riverrep.org. Then go to www.borschtbeltmuseum.org to check out what’s in store there. Tell ‘em Gidget sent you.
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