HUFFINGTON POST review 2013 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?