By Donna Herman
When I was a hormonal, angst-ridden pre-teen I used to pretend that my life was a movie musical. As I walked to school, I would imagine movie cameras filming this fascinating event and I would hum a made-up song to myself. It never lasted for more than a few minutes because I couldn’t sustain the fantasy that the meaningless stuff I was saying in my head and me walking to school could possibly be of any interest to anyone – even myself. Unfortunately, Yehuda Hyman who wrote, choreographed, directed and performs in the dance/theater piece The Mar Vista: In search of my mother’s love life never got over himself or his family enough to get that message.
The press release bills The Mar Vista as a romantic and comical piece about a Russian-Jewish woman with a colorful and mysterious past, her war-time adventures, and the unbreakable bonds between a gay American son and his immigrant parents. Quite a set up for a piece that is all incident and no insight. The Mar Vista is basically a narrative of a Russian-Jewish family that flees the persecution of Jews in Russia just prior to WWII and lands in Istanbul. The daughter is a free spirit, has a couple of love affairs, winds up marrying someone appropriate and emigrating with him to California. Where they have a son and a not-so-happy marriage. She loves to dance, the father is gruff and uninvolved, the son winds up as a gay choreographer. Shocking….not. The piece is a catalog of events with no introspection. Then again, the events kind of speak for themselves.
The Mar Vista’s saving grace is its visual appeal. Which may seem odd for a piece performed in a black box theater with no scenery. Part dance/part play, the four white walls of the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center are the only background and two chairs and two benches the only set pieces. But Zach Blane’s evocative lighting and Yehuda Hyman’s clever and inventive staging kept me involved and interested in what was happening on stage, if not why it was.
Then too, I found myself admiring a couple of the performers for their ability to create natural and believable characters while transitioning between dancing and acting so naturally and fluidly. Amanda Schussel as the main character of Sara stood out, having to go from a young girl to an old woman with no make-up or costume. Likewise, Jacob Perkins as the young boy Yehuda, conveyed his youthfulness with no physical aids beautifully. I think their dance training helps them understand the age differences on a physical level that gives them an edge.
If only Mr. Hyman had thought a little more about why anybody other than himself and his own relatives might be interested in knowing his family story, The Mar Vista would be more successful as a theater piece. As a choreographer, he doesn’t have to concern himself with more than the visual effects he’s achieving. But as a playwright, the intellect has to be engaged and purpose has to enter the picture.
The Mar Vista: In search of my mother’s love life Written, Directed & Choreographed by Yehuda Hyman
WITH: Yehuda Hyman; Ezra Bloom; Ron Kagan; Ryan Pater; Jacob Perkins; Amanda Schussel
Lighting Design by Zach Blane; Costume Design by Amy Page; Sound Design and Original Music by Ezra Bloom; Scenic Consultant, Lewis Folden; Production Manager, Will Jennings; Production Stage Manager, Kate Ann Wilson; Executive Producers, Barbara Nagel & Rosanne De Luca Braun. Presented by Mystical Feet Company and EMVEE Productions, LLC at the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, NYC through March 23, 2019. Tickets can be purchased through Ticket Central via www.ticketcentral.com, by calling 212-279-4200, or in person at 416 W. 42nd Street (12-8pm daily).