America In Play

Stage Door: Forever Tango, Exodus Code: Advice for Wanderers
07/15/2013 – by Fern Siegel

Another culture mainstay, Yiddish vaudeville, is celebrated off-Broadway in the poignant Exodus Code: Advice for Wanderers at The Flea. Inspired by life on the Lower East Side, the touching production honors a cultural art form, weaving various stories together to recreate an archetypal immigrant experience.

It opens in a Follies’ -like fashion; a 100-year-old theater is about to be demolished. Three New Yorkers (Ann Talman, Carey Urban and Max Arnaud) hoping to retrieve memorabilia quickly discover a Yiddish comic (Shane Baker). All begin channeling the ghosts of vaudeville and an ethnic past.

In short order, we meet Abraham Cahan, the esteemed editor of the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward, a hugely influential newspaper that carried news, arts and, most telling, instructed immigrants on American life. It also ran a famous column, “Bintel Brief,” in which readers shared questions and fears about their new American lives.

The letters from “Bintel Brief” are blended with stories and songs of immigrant life. Humor commingles with tragedy. The experiences, from the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, to a rabbi’s son in love with a gentile girl, to husbands who deserted families, underscore the challenges newcomers faced.

The humor is played out in various vaudeville sketches by the talented and deft ensemble. Sketches tout the versatility of the Yiddish word “nu,” as well as the travails of a young man. When he announces he’ll marry a woman who makes him happy, despite his parents’ objections, his mother replies: “When you’re dead, you can be happy.”

The moving and evocative Exodus Code champions the Yiddish past, the comedy that reflected and comforted its audience, and the experiences that shaped their lives. The quartet of authors — Rob Hartmann, Laura Henry, Andrea Lepcio and Susan Tenneriello — reminds us of the importance of stories and salutes this extraordinary community. At heart, lies a profound message: If we don’t remember where we came from, how do we know who we are?

NEW YORK THEATRE review 2013
Christine J. Schmidt on America-In-Play’s Exodus Code, Advice for Wanderers as presented at The Flea Theatre
07/18/2013 – by Christine J. Schmidt

Entering The Flea, I walked down concrete steps, into a narrow basement, and across a dimly lit stage scattered with objects. The space felt old and untouched. Calm and charming. The house lights sank down without the usual theatre announcement and we dove in.

In the first scene of Exodus Code, four people separately break into an old, abandoned theatre on the Lower East Side on the eve of its demolition. They all have a connection to the theatre in some way. After some brief dialogue about what little history the four have about Yiddish vaudeville and the theatre itself, they stumble upon a newspaper from 1910. Reading letters sent to the paper’s advice column, Bintel Brief, they begin to embody the stories, taking on common Yiddish vaudeville personas: the husband/wife duo, the comic, and the singer.

Ann Talman, Shane Baker, Carey Urban, and Max Arnaud do a stellar job of bringing their characters to life, moving fluidly and honestly through each vignette. While the more comedic moments were most fun to watch, I especially enjoyed Urban’s vocals dispersed throughout. One chilling song in particular, about a young woman losing her husband in shop fire, stays with me even now. We never went back to the four people in the abandoned theatre, which was unfortunate. It was a compelling potential framing device.

Some stories are funny, and some are terribly tragic. What they have in common is their need to be told. One character asks, “Who are we if we don’t remember where we came from?” This play seems to have been written for that very reason: to keep these stories and traditions alive. I thank America-In-Play for sharing them with me.


Exodus Code: Advice for Wanderers – A Jewish Vaudeville
07/18/2013 – by Sandi Durell

The rich cultural life of Yiddish Vaudeville is alive at the Flea Theater as we peek into an old building on the Lower East Side about to be demolished where a theater has been discovered by four people who enter with flashlights, each seeking their own piece of the past.

A woman (Ann Talman), a photographer eager to capture what remains in her camera lens; Yiddish comic (Shane Baker) is a presence from the past; a young singer (Carey Urban) and a man (Max Arnaud) eager to grab any object to give to his grandfather as a memory, as they all come together in the reminiscent flavor of a Follies entrance.

What transpires are short stories and sketches that give insight into the hearts and minds of the immigrants who flowed into this country through the “Bintel Brief,” a column in the Yiddish language Jewish Daily Forward, the paper whose editor Abraham Cahan helped the new settlers learn about America. It also served as a voice for Jews to talk to each other by writing letters to the paper about personal matters (a prelude to Dear Abby), seeking advice and lost loved ones.

In this format there are both sad and humor-filled sequences and stories, in song and dialogue, that cover love triangles, stories of deceit and extra-marital affairs, a glimpse into gay relationships and sex. Even the audience learns a little Yiddish when we’re asked to stand up, copy gestures and repeat “nu” – and suddenly we’re all fluent in Yiddish!

The stories, or letters read from the Jewish Daily Forward touch on husbands who desert wives and children, a nebbish husband who doesn’t work but is in love with the Rabbi’s wife, whose own mieskeit (ugly) wife runs a brothel and whose daughter, in order to earn money, has been forced into prostitution and is in love with a girl who is also a prostitute, spurning the Rabbi’s son who is in love with someone else – (yes, these are intricately woven stories that all connect!) – the wife screeching “worthless husband, degenerate daughter! ”

Remembrances of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire are relived with sadness as the foursome give insight into times past accompanied by an accordion played by Michel J. Spudic (which, in the small space, can sometimes overshadow the vocals). The vaudeville style comic humor was many times corny as it should be and the Yiddish accents come and go. But the intention of keeping heritage alive, the essence of the past present is what comes through.

The Exodus Code is presented by America-in-Play as they continue to present stories about the melting pot of immigrants who shaped this country.

This play is written by Rob Hartmann, Laura Henry, Andrea Lepcio, Susan Tenneriello with music by Rob Hartmann and Lyrics by Andrea Lepecio and Susan Tenneriello. The Exodus Code is directed by Lynn M. Thomson; set/costume design by Robert Eggers.

Thru July 28th, The Flea Theater, 41 White St., NYC (Tribeca) 212 352-3101