AIRDATE: APRIL 6, 2001
Like the Kabbalah it invokes, “The Mad Dancers” is Jewish mysticism. Like the Kabbalah, it is dense and complex, opaque and indirect, a parallel universe full of symbolism and stories, where nothing is what it seems. And, like the Kabbalah, it could take you a lifetime to figure it all out, to unwrap all the secrets and symbols, the messages and meaning. The best thing to do is let yourself be spirited away, lifted by the music and the dance, and magically, mystically, intuitively, you will learn the lessons of life hidden within the text.
In case all this sounds too deep and dark, rest assured that “The Mad Dancers” is a comedy — with magnificent music — and yes, even some mad dancing. It travels in time and space, taking place simultaneously in 18th century Ukraine and 21st century San Francisco, and other exotic locales. In the past, the Rebbe, the spiritual leader, is dying, without a successor. He searches for the ideal heir, finally finding the perfect person, 191 years in the future — Elliott Green, zhlubby IBM info-nerd Everyman.
A highly assimilated Jew, Elliott has lost touch with his heritage and his happiness. The Rebbe visits him in the person of Seven Beggars — one blind, one deaf, one without hands, one with no legs, a Yemenite stutterer, an Ethiopian hunchback. Ironically, what each is lacking turns into his biggest asset: nothing is as it seems. One by one, they entice him along, on his path — to find the garden, to find fulfillment, to find bliss. At every step of the way, Elliott is tempted by the Old Gentleman, the Evil Inclination, what the Jews call the Yetzor Hara, the dark force that will always try to lure you into self-sabotage.
Ten years in the making, loosely based on a story by the influential, controversial Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, this world premiere captures the fire and light of Jewish mysticism. The story itself and the stories within are magical. If we experienced it all uninterrupted, without an intermission, we would be completely transported, just like Elliott. Though the play is a bit protracted and prolix, Todd Salovey has directed with a deft and dexterous hand, trusting the audience imagination and using low-tech stage wizardry to create an enchanted evening, thanks to an outstanding collaborative team.
The physically, intellectually and emotionally agile Yehuda Hyman serves as writer, choreographer — and Elliott Green. John Campion is brilliant as the shape-shifting Rebbe Each of the other chameleon-like cast members has at least one incandescent moment: Chaz Mena in his hilarious turn as a Middle Eastern sex-club waiter; Jaye Austin-Williams as the Deaf signing gardener; Steve Gunderson singing a beautiful Yemenite ballad; Dimiter Marinov as the irresistibly sinister Old Gentleman. Daniel Hoffman’s original music is marvelous, excellently complemented by the evocative set, lighting and sound.
The secret, mystical message? Act on your dreams. Trust the universe. Seek the garden. Look for joy. Sing. Dance. Find your bliss. And… metaphors be with you.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.