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Theater review: 'South of Delancey' at the Fremont Centre Theatre

May 26, 2011 |  6:00 pm

South_of_Delancey_photo_10 Set in the 1940s, “South of Delancey,” at the Fremont Centre Theatre, is well-directed, beautifully acted and consistently entertaining.  Regrettably, a cursory ending does not do justice to what has come before.

Creator and director Karen Sommers based her play on archival tapes of a popular Yiddish radio program broadcast in New York starting in the late 1930s.  On the program, a sort of ethnic “Judge Judy,” a Jewish arbitration court mediated between disputants and rendered binding decisions.

Sommers gives “developed by” credit to some half-dozen individuals, who  helped improvise and workshop this world premiere production, which  samples three distinct “cases” from the original program.

The couples are Lenore (Kal Bennett) and Helen (Jordana Oberman), bickering sisters who live together; Faye (Abigail Marks) and her abusive husband, Marty (Michael Rubenstone), whose shaky marriage isn't helped by Faye's meddling Yiddische mama, (Casey Kramer); and finally, Lilly (Jodi Fleisher) and Herman (Barry Alan Levine), a businesswoman and her schnorrer spouse whose passion has cooled into contempt.

Sound designer Grady Hutt seamlessly integrates archival recordings with the live actors, and Dove Huntley's one-set-fits-all scenic design is impressively detailed, as are Lois Tedrow's period costumes.  Among this exceptional cast, Marks is a particular standout, while Kramer is quickly establishing herself as one of the most versatile actors in the business.

Sommers ultimately fails to make a point of the arbitrators' often sexist and dismissive decisions, a crucial omission, especially in the case of Faye, who is discouraged from divorcing because her husband has “promised” not to abuse her.  However, on the whole, “Delancey” is a wonderful work-in-progress that just needs some judicious tweaking before it is just right.

- F. Kathleen Foley

“South of Delancey,” Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends June 26.  $25.  (866) 811-4111.  Running time:  2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Michael Rubenstone, Casey Kramer, Abigail Marks.  Credit: Dove Huntley.