Metro Weekly

Oy, Relationships

Yentl seems a fruitless pursuit while Belleville takes too long to get going

Yentl Photo by Stan Barouh

Yentl – Photo: Stan Barouh

“Oh, shit!” sings Shayna Blass. “What have I done?”

The actress utters those lyrics only after Act Two is well underway in the musical adaptation of Yentl — after an overlong 90-minute first act and a 15-minute intermission. What took so long for this much-needed exercise in self-incrimination from the title character?

By this point in the story, Yentl has long ago abandoned the community where she grew up, having transplanted herself to another village far away, a place where everyone has come to know her as a boy named Anshel, a disguise that allows for studying the Talmud, since only males can be Talmud scholars. In short, when Anshel falls for the boy of “his” dreams, Avigdor (Michael Kevin Darnall), Anshel simply doesn’t have the balls to tell him the truth. And when the town’s most available bachelorette Hadass (Sara Dabney Tisdale) falls for Anshel, “he” doesn’t have the heart to deny her marriage. It’s not until after the wedding night that Anshel questions his actions — at least that’s the first time he expresses it in full musical form. And this only adds to the difficulty for a theatergoer to sympathize, much less relate, to a character whose original intentions of becoming a wholly devoted religious scholar were so pure and pious.

Certainly it’s a saving grace to have a song like “Oh Shit” to provide entertaining relief and make us wonder anew how Yentl might try to resolve the mess she’s made. Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, with assistance from Robin Eaton, has written 11 klezmer-colored pop songs for this version of Yentl, and they’re as charmingly provocative as Sobule’s big ’90s pop hit “I Kissed A Girl.” Her music and lyrics, calling to mind rock musicals such as Spring Awakening, might not be as timeless or traditional as the songs in the 1983 Barbra Streisand-helmed movie version of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s original short story. But as satisfying as it might have been to hear Bass sing “Papa Can You Hear Me?,” timeless and traditional music is the last thing Yentl needs. The show needs punchy music to match the punch of the story about a girl who gives up everything to pursue her dream — only to besmirch her own plans by pursuing love and happiness. It’s all a bit desultory really, so breaks in the tale for some bright and lively music are welcome.

Most of the 14-member cast in this tricky Theater J production, directed by Shirley Serotsky, plays at least two characters, and several also double as musicians. All do a fine job when breaking into song and dance, but are on less sturdy ground when speaking. At a recent performance most of the leads stumbled over their lines at least once. And as effective and convincing as Bass is in conveying as both male and female, you just don’t get the sense there’s real sexual attraction to Hadass, nor do you sense a real conflict over gender. Instead, the conflict is one of culture. If Bass’s Yentl could live life as a female rabbi, there wouldn’t be any such character named Anshel, period.

IF IT’S HARD TO SYMPATHIZE WITH YENTL, it’s even harder to feel for Abby and Zack, the two lead characters in Amy Herzog’s Belleville. Studio Theatre’s David Muse directs an intermission-less production of this nearly 100-minute play, which develops so slowly that it’s not until the last 20 minutes or so that you get a sense of how it might end — and from there it moves at breakneck speed, with surprising, dramatic plot twists. It just might stir you into such a frenzy your heart is pounding at the play’s bloody end — and the only relief is to flee to the exit and headed to the nearest bar as fast as you can.

Belleville is tautly acted by a cast of four, led by Gillian Williams as Abby and Jacob H. Knoll as Zack, a seemingly happy American couple who move to Paris for his work and her pleasure — or so the story starts. Everything spins out from there, with the couple’s modern one-bedroom apartment (gorgeously realized by Debra Booth) the center of it all, comfortable until it becomes claustrophobic, and much worse.

Herzog is remarkably skillful in the way she slowly, shockingly unravels what we think we know about her characters. The problem is that she picks away until there were few to no redeeming qualities left. I quickly lost interest, to the point I didn’t much care how it ended, just that it finally did.

Yentl (**-1/2) runs to Oct. 5 at Washington, D.C.’s Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets are $45 to $65. Call 202-518-9400 or visit washingtondcjcc.org.

Belleville (***) runs to Oct. 12 at Studio Theatre, 14th & P Streets NW. Tickets are $44 to $88. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.

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Felipe Esparza Live (Netflix, HBO & "What's Up Fool" Podcast)

at Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, Arlington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
+ 1 more dates
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
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OFFER PRICE: $12.50 - $15

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Shakespeare's "1 Henry IV" Featuring Edward Gero

at Folger Theatre, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
+ 2 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
Sun, September 22
[less-]
FULL PRICE: $55 - $85
OFFER PRICE: $38.50 - $68

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Tragic Tales of Georgetown: Walking Tour Unearths Scary Stories

at Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
+ 5 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Fri, October 04
Sat, October 05
Fri, October 11
Sat, October 12
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FULL PRICE: $24
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"Whose Line"-Style Improv With StageCoach Bandits

at StageCoach Theatre Company, Ashburn
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
FULL PRICE: $15
OFFER PRICE: $7.50

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"Sweeney Todd" Dinner Theater

at The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, Hagerstown
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
+ 6 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Fri, October 11
Sat, October 12
Fri, October 18
Sat, October 19
Fri, October 25
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FULL PRICE: $49.50
OFFER PRICE: $24.75

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"Magic Mike Tribute Show -- Ladies Night Revue"

at The Bier Baron Tavern, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
FULL PRICE: $30 - $40
OFFER PRICE: $11.99 - $20

Performing nationwide, we are the leader in providing good looking men that move on stage like none other. Our focus has been our celebrated and well known Ladies Night Out Male Revue Shows. Tickets t... [more+]

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The DC Comedy Showcase

at Comedy Club DC, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
+ 19 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Fri, October 04
Sat, October 05
Fri, October 11
Sat, October 12
Fri, October 18
Sat, October 19
Fri, October 25
Sat, October 26
Fri, November 01
Sat, November 02
Fri, November 08
Sat, November 09
Fri, November 15
Sat, November 16
Fri, November 22
Sat, November 23
Fri, November 29
Sat, November 30
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OFFER PRICE: $5 - $7.50

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Presidential Neighborhood: White House & Pennsylvania Avenue Tour

at Lafayette Square at the General Rochambeau Statue- 701 Jackson Pl NW, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Fri, October 04
Fri, October 18
FULL PRICE: $35
OFFER PRICE: $25

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"Cabaret"

at Olney Theatre Center - Mainstage, Olney
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
+ 14 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
Wed, September 25
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Sat, September 28
Sun, September 29
Wed, October 02
Wed, October 02
Thu, October 03
Fri, October 04
Sat, October 05
Sat, October 05
Sun, October 06
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OFFER PRICE: $23.50 - $42.50

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Politics & Pints Capitol Hill Walking Tour

at US Capitol Building, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
+ 8 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
Mon, September 23
Tue, September 24
Wed, September 25
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Sun, September 29
Mon, September 30
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FULL PRICE: $40
OFFER PRICE: $20

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"The Book Club Play"

at Silver Spring Stage, Silver Spring
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
+ 7 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Sun, September 29
Fri, October 04
Sat, October 05
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Fri, October 11
Sat, October 12
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Comedian Kellen Erskine

at Drafthouse Comedy Theater, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
+ 1 more dates
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
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FULL PRICE: $20
OFFER PRICE: $10

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"The Girls of the Garden Club"

at Laurel Mill Playhouse, Laurel
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
+ 3 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Fri, October 04
Sat, October 05
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"A Few Good Men"

at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Wed, September 25
Thu, September 26
+ 1 more dates
Fri, September 20
Wed, September 25
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
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"Butterfly"

at Source, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
+ 2 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
Sun, September 22
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Tour the Monuments & Memorials of the National Mall

at DC Design Tours - Washington Monument Lodge, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 27
Fri, October 04
+ 3 more dates
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 27
Fri, October 04
Fri, October 11
Fri, October 18
Fri, October 25
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FULL PRICE: $35
OFFER PRICE: $25

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Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Show: Hear the Hits in Fun, Interactive Show

at Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Bar, National Harbor
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Fri, September 27
FULL PRICE: $15
OFFER PRICE: $8.50

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Discover D.C. On a Walking Foodie Tour of H Street

at Union Station - Main Lobby, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
+ 8 more dates
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sun, September 22
Mon, September 23
Tue, September 24
Wed, September 25
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
Sat, September 28
Sun, September 29
Mon, September 30
[less-]
FULL PRICE: $79
OFFER PRICE: $39

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Musical Comedy "A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn"

at Anacostia Playhouse, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Sat, September 21
Sat, September 21
FULL PRICE: $40
OFFER PRICE: $20

Let the good times roll as you experience a raunchy, raucous night of song filled with laughter, high jinks, and tears of joy. This fun-filled musical journey will take you on a ride of those unforget... [more+]

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"La vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream)"

at GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington
OFFER DATES:
Fri, September 20
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
+ 4 more dates
Fri, September 20
Thu, September 26
Fri, September 27
Thu, October 03
Fri, October 04
Thu, October 10
Fri, October 11
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OFFER PRICE: $25

Set in Poland in the 17th century when its influence and power in Europe had waned, "Life is a Dream" explores tyranny, fate, and free will. Weaving together the stories of Segismundo, who was impriso... [more+]

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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