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Theater review: ‘The Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz’ at the Complex

September 14, 2011 | 12:37 pm


An actor doing short stories by Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz — with a fiddler. Sounds crazy, no?

Actually, “The Short Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz” at the Complex is sane enough for a shul presentation. Yet although the performer, venue owner Matt Chait, calls the piece a fully staged performance rather than a recital, it’s a distinction without much consequence.

Chait delivers from memory seven tales by the late-19th century chronicler of Eastern European Jewish life and culture. The burning eyes of a child beggar, a downtrodden man’s stoic silence, a peasant woman’s desire for the education denied her in a patriarchal order — such are the everyday details that evoke universal tugs at the heartstrings and conscience. 

Peretz’s compassion for poverty and suffering, his deep philosophical reflections and his surprisingly modern psychological insights are rendered with clarity and seriousness of purpose laced with the roots of Borscht Belt comedy. Though the stories are presented in English, Chait is adept in the building blocks of Yiddish vocabulary — sighs, shrugs, groans and kvetches.

He also supplies some credible character voices. However, the text is primarily narrative and there is an hour too much of it to sustain focus within an unvarying single-actor format with minimal lighting cues and blocking. Concert violinist Lior Kaminetsky’s klezmer-style interludes are magnificently evocative but remain in separate segments from the stories. An independent directorial eye is sorely needed here. 

— Philip Brandes

“The Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz,” Ruby Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. (Dark Sept. 28 and 29). Ends Oct. 10. $15 and $20. (323) 960-7780 or Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: Matt Chait, left, and Lior Kaminetsky. Credit: Ed Krieger.