UCSD stages story of unrequited love, spirit possession
by Charlene Baldridge
Published - 11/16/11 - 05:12 PM | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leah (Taylor Shurte) mourns over the loss of her beloved as she is rapidly possessed by a haunted spirit, or dybbuk. Photo by Jim Carmody
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The UC San Diego department of theater and dance opened “The Dybbuk” on Nov. 10, a wondrous and mystical play, the 1920 premier of which opened in Vilna, Lithuania. Written by S. Ansky and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, the play tells the story of Leah, a young girl destined to wed Khonen, a brilliant young scholar of no means. Although he pledged her to Khonen in infancy, Leah’s father Sender, now a wealthy merchant, has other ideas for Leah. When he betroths Leah to a more suitable (i.e., prosperous) prospective husband, Khonen dies and becomes a wandering spirit, or dybbuk in Hebrew, which takes possession of the girl’s body.

The setting is an ancient synagogue around the turn of the 19th century. Director Joshua Kahan Brody, a second-year Master of Fine Arts student, works with a fine company of 19, made up of both MFA actors and other UCSD students, with excellent production design also created by MFA students.

An acknowledged classic of Yiddish theater, “The Dybbuk” concerns Khonen (Jack Mikesell), a brilliant young scholar of the Talmud and Kabbalah, who loves Leah (Taylor Shurte), daughter of the wealthy merchant Sender (Daniel Rubiano). When Sender announces to the men gathered in the synagogue library that he has pledged Leah to a wealthy suitor, Khonen falls dead. According to custom, Leah visits her mother’s grave to ask her to attend the wedding. While there, she is possessed by an unsettled spirit called a dybbuk. It is Khonen, who has entered her body in order to be united with her for all eternity. The changed Leah is taken to Rabbi Azriel (Gabriel Lawrence) for an exorcism. The dybbuk refuses to leave and a transcendent union is arranged through The Messenger (Jennifer Putney), a visitor who travels between the world of the dead and the living.

Brody stages the work sparely, devoutly and intelligently and he is ably supported by the design elements: costumes by Mary Rochon; scenic design by Kathryn Lieber; lighting design by Kristin Hayes; and music and sound design by Blair Robert Nelson.

“The Dybbuk” continues at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 17-19, at the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre, UC San Diego Theatre District/La Jolla Playhouse, 2901 La Jolla Village Dr., $20 general; $15 UCSD affiliate and seniors; $10 UCSD students with ID; (858) 534-4574, in person at the door one hour prior to show, or online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/202469.

The UCSD MFA program was created in 1974 and offers degrees in six areas: acting, dance theater, design, directing, stage management and playwriting. The department provides ample opportunity for audiences to see works of importance that are rarely performed. Next up is Alexander Ostrovsky’s “The Storm,” which provided the text for the opera “Katya Kabanova.” It is staged by third-year MFA director Larissa Lury and plays Nov. 16 through Dec. 3. For more information, visit www.theatre.ucsd.edu.
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