Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: 'The Golem'

Ego Po's take on the mythical Jewish protector offers a twist because of the characters' context. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reports from the Prince Music Theater.

Review: 'The Golem'


By Howard Shapiro

The rich stories involving a golem — a fictional Jewish guardian imbued with the dangerous power to protect at all costs — make perfect sense in the scope of Jewish history. A golem is like a security blanket, but much more scary: It provides comfort but also must fight oppression.

The most famous golem story — they are all tales, with golem springing from an ancient Hebrew word that means a shapeless form — is set in 16th-century Prague. In the world-premiere play called The Golem, which Ego Po Classic Theater opened Thursday night with a track-record cast and an unwavering sincerity — there’s a neat twist.

The cast, which created the show as an ensemble work for Ego Po's season of Jewish-themed theater, tells the classic tale of a golem who tried to protect Prague’s Jews from attacks during Passover, when priests spread libels about Christian blood in the Jews’ matzohs.

That tale is told, though, in a revealing new context. Eight Jews, on a deportation train to what will be a death camp in 1941, tell each other the story as they barrel through Prague. They progress to other golem tales and as they take  parts in each, you realize  they are searching for  their own golem who —  like others — will not really be able to  stem the tide against them.

It’s a great idea for a piece of theater. The troupe, directed by Brenna Geffers, performs The Golem with marionette puppets (by Martina Plag)  and to original  music by Andrew Nelson, which cast members play.  The Eastern-European Jewish music is highly derivate, precisely why it works here.

Every golem story is sad and frightening - you'll never hear one that begins, "Three golems walk into a bar and order shots of Manischewitz ..." Even so, the cast of The Golem would do well to tone down its intensity. The actors play out the stories without letup in their moods (and without translations for the Yiddish they throw in, or explanations of things from Jewish tradition that are not immediately apparent). The constant intensity takes away from the impact the show seeks in juxtaposing these tales of the fabulous with the reality of their own fates.

 The show also had the feel Thursday that it wasn’t quite ready, and probably  under-rehearsed. In the first golem story — the classic one — Griffin Stanton-Ameisen’s halting narration took the air out of the tale; he seemed to be adjusting his narrative to the actions of the rest of the cast, who play roles in the story. As a result, the initial tale had a disjointed quality that a few more tries would probably erase.

The cast is fine: In addition to Stasnton-Ameisen, Josh Totora is a music teacher, Lorna Howley is a prof, Dave Jadico plays an engineer, Ross Beschler, a publisher. Geneviève Perrier plays an expectant mother, Sarah School, a secretary and Kevin Chick, a student. They’ve created their own golem myth,  and as the run of The Golem continues, it may gain its own power.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.


The Golem: Through April 15 at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. Tickets: $20-$50. Information: 267-273-1414 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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