At the Loeb tonight through Sunday and next Wednesday through Saturday.
Sad to report, what was exorcised at the Loeb last night, was the fragile magic of S. Anski's The Dybbuk. Stephen Kaplan's production of this classic Yiddish play was too often clumsy and out of sorts with the text to be completely redeemed by the superb concluding acts.
Some of the mistakes will be done away with by this evening. There is no reason to expect, surely, that the light which rose suddenly to spoil the fourth act curtain will re-appear. But as for more serious problems of pacing the remedy may take a bit longer.
The opening act is meant to establish the idioms and manners of Eastern European Jewish life: it succeeds only in making audience and cast uncomfortable. The three batlonim, those parable-telling lay-abouts of Yiddish humor, act as though they were unrepentant members of the Gas House Gang. Timothy Hall offends especially, and all about him actors are moving too slowly and having great trouble with the foreign-sounding words. Only Howard Cutler, as Khonnon, the young student whose anguished soul is the dybbuk of the title, and Mark Ritts, as the prophetic messenger, carry off their parts. Both have voices rich enough to support the lyric passages which are Anski's cache.
The introduction concluded, the actors discover a store of kinetic energy which allows them to dash through the second act at twice the proper speed. The beggar's dance is frolicsome when it should be ferocious; the possession of the bride by the dybbuk is dispatched before the full terror of the assault can be developed. Marilyn Pitzele as Leye, the bride, manages to prove herself a fine actress amid the swirl. With her brash girl friends hustled off-stage and her sing-song grandmother, (Barbara Thompson) silenced by the script, Miss Pitzele displays a sullenness of movement, and a finely modulated tremulo ideal for the role.
Enter Laurence Senelick as Reb Azrielke. For the remaining two acts he commands the stage, judging the rightness of the dybbuk's claims, then bringing the powers of the underworld against him. Senelick is by turns pitious and imperious, awful in the robes of his rabbinical office, then faint in the arms of a friend. His lines are difficult, full of the persistent legalisms that could have reduced tragedy to laughable pontification. Set against the virtuosity of his performance is the disembodied voice of the dybbuk, sounding all the more despairing and alone in its electronic chill. There, away from the boisterous dancers and comedians Kaplan seemed to have control of his show.
Technically, too, the production was uneven. Randall Darwall's sets were pleasant enough to look at, but they filled the stage, forcing the action, especially in the second act, into an unsuitably small area. The late Lewis H. Smith supplied excellent costumes, though some of the women were wearing fabrics too lavish or bright for their station. The makeup, like the lighting, was unfortunately slap-dash.