Yiddish Theater: A Love Story



New Love Films

NEW YORK -- Israeli Dan Katzir's documentary profiling veteran Yiddish theater actress Zypora Spaisman displays a plucky, improvised quality not entirely unbefitting its subject.

While "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" is frustrating in its slapdash approach to subject matter that deserves a far more exhaustive, not to mention entertaining, approach, it nonetheless winds up a moving portrait of an indomitable figure fighting for the preservation of a threatened culture.

Shot in 2000 but only recently completed, the film largely chronicles the efforts of the then 86-year-old Spaisman to keep alive a production of the vintage play "Green Fields" that was being presented by the Yiddish Public Theater, a company she founded after parting ways with the venerable Folksbienne.

The reasons for that separation are but one of the many topics not covered in the film, which instead settles for a scattershot portrait of Spaisman and supporters like young producer David Romeo as they attempt to raise funds to transfer the production from its fringy location to a more commercial off-Broadway berth. Despite laudatory reviews, the show ultimately foundered because of factors including a devastating blizzard.

The film includes amusing interviews with several aged Yiddish theater veterans, as well as a young actress appearing in the production who is thrilled by seeing her picture in the New York Times.

Scholars are heard commenting as to the reasons for the Yiddish theater's decline, citing such reasons as the Holocaust; Polish and Russian anti-Semitism; and the desire of many Jews to abandon what they considered a dying language.

Although the film's highly personal approach ultimately pays off in terms of heartfelt emotion -- particularly at its bittersweet conclusion -- it's hard not to wish that its focus was not quite so narrow.