Billy Yalowitz, writer and actor who plays his older self does it all. He plays guitar, sings, and moves like a trained dancer. We follow him through his life in search of an answer. He is joined by three other actors. David Kreminitzer, who plays the younger Billy, more exuberantly than I imagined the real Billy. Brian Gunter, who believably plays Woody Guthrie. He has a wonderful singing voice, and thankfully we understand each word. And one female, Eleanor Reissa who plays several characters; from a young politically motivated dancer to an older communist explaining old times. She also sings, speaks fluent Yiddish, and constantly charms us. If I were a casting agent I’d hire her for every role! The sequences where she leads the cast in a variety of dances is fun and uplifting.
Billy’s parents and grandparents were active participants in the Jewish left. He was a “red diaper baby”. He was raised in housing created by the ladies garment workers union. He attended camps and a summer colony with of like minds. They had a clear fight whose time has past. Billy has many of their values; concern for the workers, importance of a community of activists. However, he does not want to follow this path in New York. His hero is Woody Guthrie and he hitch hikes across America to find him. The play includes many Woody songs.
He also takes us back to his childhood. He was an active athlete. He tells us “they’re weren’t many Jews in Little League”. Here he experiences anti-semitism, from the boys who lived across the street in the projects. It’s not clear how that impacted him and his choices. At the end of his travels he returns east to New York to form his alliances at home. He has a conversation with the older neighbor woman. He points out the failures of the communist movement. He refers to people having to follow strict party lines, i.e. put aside being a Jew. He points out the actions of Stalin. She acknowledges the diappointments. He asks; “then why fight ?” and she answers, “it’s complicated”. And so it is, he is left to pursue humanist socialism.
This play covers a time we might forget and there is much to remember. There is so much of importance to say. But,
for me it’s too much to squeeze into 90 minutes without intermission.
Written by: Billy Yalowitz Director: David Schechter Choreography: Michael Raine
Cast: Brian Gunter, David Kremenitzer, Eleanor Reissa, Billy Yalowitz
Location: Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue
Tuesdays through Saturdays. $15. general admission For info and tickets: 212 254 1109