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God of Vengeance

Popular knowledge of the traditions of Yiddish theater—to the extent that any exists—rests largely upon a fading familiarity with the conventions of vaudeville. However, the productions of the Jewish immigrant population of late 19th-century New York City had an independent existence, one which provided Yiddish-speaking theatergoers more than just slapstick and dog acts. True, comic plays like Shmendrick (the title of which has become a synonym for a weak, bumbling doofus), were enormously popular diversions among that community’s working class, but there were also serious dramatic works—adaptations of Hamlet (retitled Der Yeshiva Bokher) and Goethe’s Faust (Got, Mensh un Tayvel), for example—and provocative, controversial works tackling themes that might still raise eyebrows today. On Wednesday, the Williamstown Theatre Festival will revive a new production of just such a play, Sholom Asch’s acclaimed/reviled 1906 drama God of Vengeance.

The play details the attempts of a brothel owner to preserve the respectability of his daughter by strictly forbidding her to associate with the prostitutes above whom the family live, and by commissioning for her a handwritten Torah, an emblem of both wealth and piety. The daughter, however, has kindled an illicit relationship with one of the prostitutes, a relationship with amorous dimensions. Though the play’s portrayal of an intimate bond between young women—which some believe to contain the first onstage “passionate kiss between women”—was well-received in Europe after its Berlin debut in 1910, it did not travel well. The play made it to Broadway in 1923, and New York audiences were scandalized; in fact, the play’s Sapphic subplot got its producers and cast thrown in the clink for “promulgating obscenity.” God of Vengeance would go on to become the first play in America successfully prosecuted on moral grounds.

The WTF’s production is an adaptation by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, based on a literal translation by Joachim Neugroschel, and is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (apparently, Jessie Helms didn’t recognize the Yiddish words for either “hooker” or “lesbian”).

God of Vengeance begins its run at the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Adams Memorial Theatre (Williamstown, Mass.) on Wednesday (July 31) and continues through Aug. 11. Tickets are $20-$45, with performances Tuesday-Friday at 8 PM, Saturdays at 8:30 PM. For more information, call (413) 597-3399.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles, who’s coming to the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Mass., tomorrow (Friday), began performing and playing piano professionally in the 1940s, earning his first top-10 hit in 1951, at the age of 21.

Throughout the ’50s, Charles amassed a sizeable number of hits, including “This Little Girl of Mine,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Lonely Avenue,” “The Right Time” and “What’d I Say,” and helped bridge the worlds of rock and R&B. In the ’60s, Charles began to take a more heavy-handed approach to his recording, often acting as performer. His hits in that era included “Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Busted,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and “Crying Time.” and he even dabbled in country & western music.

His work in the late ’60s helped influence a new generation of rock stars, including Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, and Steve Winwood, and the musician has continued to tour and record, with a side trip to the world of film with an appearance in The Blues Brothers. Recently, Charles released the album Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Ray Charles will perform at the Calvin Theatre (Northampton, Mass.) tomorrow (Friday, July 26). The show begins at 8 PM; tickets are $44.50 to $59.50. Call (800) THE-TICK.

Root Hog or Die

Stain and Scout are a couple of grafitti artists whose work can be seen on the streets of Albany, Hudson, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C.—you get the picture. And until August, Stain’s and Scout’s art can be seen easily and comfortably—without any criminal trespass whatsoever involved—at Albany’s Changing Spaces Gallery, in the show Root Hog or Die. Exploring human struggle with images of migrant workers, labor camps, inner-city children and blue-collar workers, Stain and Scout (pictured) resourcefully use found metal, signs, stolen objects and the like to express their vision.

Stain is originally from Baltimore, and now lives in Columbia County. His work can also be seen in Stencil Graffiti, a book by Tristan Manco that also features work of Shepard Fairey (Andre the Giant Has a Posse) and Dave Kinsey (Blackmarket Design), and on chrisstain.com.

Scout is “an ex-Rensselaer dirt merchant” also living in Columbia County. His work is especially abundant along the freight lines between Hudson and Boston.

Root Hog or Die opens at Changing Spaces Gallery (306 Hudson Ave., Albany) Saturday (July 27), with an opening reception from 7 to 10 PM, and runs until Aug. 17. Call 433-1537 for more information.


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