By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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, email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter.
The Golem: Through April 15 at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. Tickets: $20-$50. Information: 267-273-1414 or www.egopo.org.