We All Walk The Trail of Tears in ‘And So We Walked’

DeLanna Studi in “And So We Walked.” Photos by Patrick Weishampel/Blankeye

By Shelley A. Sackett

When the pre-written announcement acknowledging Indigenous and Enslaved Peoples is read prior to every local theatrical production, it often feels disconnected from the show that follows. Not so with Cherokee actress, artist, and activist DeLanna Studi’s stunning one-woman autobiographical presentation, ‘And So We Walked.”

For 150-minutes (one intermission), we shadow Studi’s and her ancestors’ lives as members of the Cherokee nation. She and her full-blooded 70-year-old Cherokee father (her mother is white) spend six weeks retracing the Trail of Tears, that noxious route trudged by over 100,000 Native Americans in the 1800s after they had been forcibly removed from their homes by the U.S. government. It is the same path her great-great grandparents took during the relocation of 17,000 Cherokee people.

The audience learns how tens of thousands of Native Americans died in retention centers, and many more by way of the trail. The survivors never received the $5 million sale price of their land, nor promised reparations.

“Every great story has truth in it and that truth is dangerous,” Studi explains. “The Cherokee story is written in blood.”

She peppers the evening with anecdotes, history and geography lessons, and terrific metamorphoses into a dozen characters, embodying their subtle physical and dialectic idiosyncrasies. She is a riveting presence on stage; maintaining audience interest for over two hours is no small feat, one the opening night audience acknowledged with its standing ovation.

The simple, elegant set and judicious choice and use of props captures the trail’s atmosphere, straddling between contemporary and pre-removal Cherokee life. Large pieces of white horizontal fabric reflect a variety of projected images, conjuring interior and exterior spaces. Studi is a magician at using the set to invoke a school house, Cherokee Council House, SUV and campfire gathering.

She covers a lot of ground, delving into factual topics such as the forced “reeducation” of Native children in white boarding schools from the 1860s until the 1980s. She also tackles the personal, emotional and cultural issues surrounding what it means to be a Native American in contemporary America. She feels isolated and tribeless, a bridge between two worlds, neither of which she can ever fully claim as home.

Studi replays the scene when, as a young school girl, her teacher announced that “Indians are extinct.” Because she was only half Cherokee, the elders made her sit alone at tribal ceremonies. Later in life, when auditioning for acting roles, she was told she was too white for Native parts and too Native for white roles.

Her father tries to reassure her that blood quantity is irrelevant; she should be proud of her heritage, standing tall and strong as a Cherokee woman.

“Being Cherokee isn’t about blood,” he tells her. “It’s knowing who you are. And keeping it alive.”

On her own, personal trail of tears, Studi discovers who she really is and what her rights and responsibilities are as one of the very few whose ancestors survived the Trail of Tears. Searching for her place and identity, she uncovers her essence and where she fits in.

Studi is especially effective when she addresses the audience directly, letting them in on a joke or expressing a particular emotion on her manipulable face. Although her story is replete with loss, victimization and trauma, she has seasoned it generously with humor and wit.

After their journey, her father asks, “Didja get what you came for?” If ‘And So We Walked’ is representative of what Studi gained, I’d say we all came out winners.

For tickets and information, go to: https://artsemerson.org/

‘And So We Walked’ — Created and Performed by DeLanna Studi. Directed by Corey Madden; Scenic Design by John Coyne; Costume Design by Andja Budincich; Lighting and Projection Design by Norman Coates; Sound Design and Original Music by Bruno Louchouarn. Co-represented by Octopus Theatricals and Indigenous Performance Productions. Presented by Arts Emerson at the Emerson Paramount Center, 559 Washington St., Boston through April 30, 2023.

Deb Schutzman to become executive director at Swampscott’s Congregation Shirat Hayam


By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — About a year ago, Congregation Shirat Hayam President Ruth Estrich knew the synagogue would be hiring an executive director. The board of directors had included the salary in their budget and generated the revenue to fund it.

The Swampscott synagogue didn’t have to travel far to find the perfect fit: Deb Schutzman has worked at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly for 18 years, the last 15 as its executive and education directors. B’nai Abraham is just over 7 miles from Shirat Hayam.

It has been a while since Shirat Hayam had an executive director, and Estrich, a retired corporate executive, knew what the synagogue needed.

“We were looking for a seasoned professional, someone who would be capable of leading our employees, working collaboratively with our clergy, being the face of our congregation with our congregants, and supporting our board and our volunteers,” Estrich said.

In addition, the synagogue wanted someone who would honor Shirat Hayam’s history; create unprecedented growth for the future and attract new members; increase revenue; and provide all segments of the community with a place to call home.

“A piece of cake!” Estrich said with a laugh.

The next step was to craft a contemporary and comprehensive job description. The Shirat Hayam human resource committee – after gathering information from congregational stakeholders – created a draft. They vetted it with two national organizations: the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism – the major congregational organization of Conservative Judaism in North America – and the North American Association of Synagogue Executives.

Estrich heard about Schutzman through “good old-fashioned networking.” They connected online and set up an in-person meeting.

“I knew immediately and absolutely our search was over. It felt bashert [Yiddish for “meant to be”], like the missing piece of our puzzle was in place,” she said.
Schutzman, who was born in Lowell and lives in Gloucester, brings expertise in community building, facility management, and strategic planning. She also has a deep love for the Jewish community of the North Shore. During her years as executive director at B’nai Abraham, she participated in hiring a new rabbi, a successful merger, increasing adult education programming, adding music to services, and launching a capital campaign.

While Schutzman loved her tenure at B’nai Abraham, she was ready for a change. “Shirat Hayam faces the same challenges as other synagogues. We all need to get people back into the building,” she said.

Although she acknowledged that the pandemic made attending services virtually both easier and more acceptable, “Nothing compares to being physically together. Shabbat is just not an ordinary experience at Shirat Hayam. There is an energy when we are physically together that makes it very special.”

One of her greatest joys at B’nai Abraham was her involvement with the religious school, and she especially loves watching kids come into the sanctuary at the end of Shabbat services and high-five Rabbi Michael Ragozin before chanting the blessings over wine and challah.

“Children are our greatest gifts. While teaching them, we are reminded about what is truly important and meaningful in life. The value of that teaching experience for me was priceless,” she said.

As executive director, Schutzman’s first focus at Shirat Hayam will be assessing its staffing needs. “Shirat Hayam has an incredible staff who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to hold things together during very unusual circumstances,” she said. As the congregation turns the corner on the pandemic and its ramifications, the needs of the community require reevaluation.

“Synagogue life has changed. How we communicate and interact is different now, and we need to ensure that we have the people in place with the skills to meet those needs,” she said.

Schutzman’s longer-range goals are to stabilize the operations side of the synagogue; improve communication; training and support for staff; address deferred facility maintenance; and plan for the future.

“I want to help fill the building not just for services, but for educational and social programming, life cycle events, and celebrations,” she said.

Schutzman attended Hebrew day schools from kindergarten through ninth grade. She lived in Israel for two years during high school and graduated from the New England Academy of Torah in Providence. She studied business administration at Stern College of Yeshiva University in Manhattan and UMass Lowell, after which she spent 12 years in retail store management for Macy’s and Filene’s Basement before joining B’nai Abraham.

She is the proud mother of Benjamin and Andrew and loves kayaking on the Annisquam River from May though November, “especially at sunset.”

With her term as president nearing its end, Estrich will be leaving on a personal high note with Schutzman at the organizational helm. “I’d say that with Rabbi Michael, Cantor Sarah and Deb, we’ve got the dream team and the sky’s the limit. I can’t wait to see where they take us,” she said.

Sassy, Somber and Sensual — Paul Taylor Dance Company Covers All the Bases

Full cast of Paul Taylor Dance Company at Boch Center — Shubert Theatre. Photos by Ron Thiele

By Shelley A. Sackett

Paul Taylor, whose imagination, emotional breadth and sheer physical ability helped shape and define the purely American art form known as modern dance, never fails to amaze and enchant. The thunderous opening night applause from the standing audience shows that, if anything, the company has only increased its seductive power over its Boston fans.

The three pieces (two by founding Artistic Director Paul Taylor), separated by intermissions, provided an evening of athletic exuberance and emotional depth, choreographer Taylor’s trademark, as well as the unabashed joy of the opening number, Amy Hall Gardner’s “Somewhere in the Middle,” a fun and sassy piece set to a selection of classical jazz music.

The evening opens on Donald Martiny’s jazzy set of textured paint squiggles hanging against a black backdrop. Count Basie’s toe-tapping music sets the mood for the ensemble to burst onto the stage, clad in Mark Eric’s yummy pastel costumes (briefs and bras overlaid with sheer, shimmering fabric). They tumble, leap, roll on the floor with nymph-like speed and charm, matching Ella Fitzgerald’s famous scats and bends with fancy foot and arm work.

Gardner’s piece makes excellent use of the ensemble while also allowing for individual dancers to grab the spotlight. A pas de deux slows things down, the romantic couple engaging in what my companion referred to as the “hunt” of search, attract, repel and retreat. Softer lighting (by the talented Jennifer Tipton) and sexier movements complement the darker, more fitted costumes.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming effect of this selection was of sweet, campy, happy couples who danced their way through dream-like vignettes.

Taylor’s “Brandenburgs” sets an entirely different tone. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos nos. 6 and 3 are from the Baroque era, that period that bridged the Renaissance, with its emotional reawakening, and the Classical era with its return to the staid and formal values of antiquity.

Taylor and costume designer Santo Loquasto reflect the formality and romanticism of this refined early eighteenth century time.

The curtain lifts to a sculptural tableau reminiscent of the figures atop the piece’s namesake gate in Berlin. Slowly, subtle lighting shifts to reveal three women (muses?) and a man (Apollo?) standing in a circle of five male dancers.

The costumes are bejeweled and traditional, regal and lovely but, compared to the other two pieces, uptight and unexciting. The choreography is likewise dignified and constrained. Under Tipton’s thoughtful lighting, the dancers’ skin is luminescent, glowing in silhouette against a matte black backdrop. They shimmer in what feels like slow motion, capturing the sheer genius of Taylor’s talent at spinning breathtaking magic from simple hand gestures.

With the final piece, Taylor’s “Company B,” the evening is back to its opening cheeriness, albeit with a layer of complexity and subtlety not present in Garner’s work. Set during Second World War time, the mood is established by a soundtrack of songs sung by the Andrews Sisters meant “to express typical sentiments of Americans during WWII.” Crafted as a series of interconnected sketches, the dancers shine both collectively and individually.

Loquasto’s costumes are nothing short of adorable. White anklets and sneakers, red belts (for men and women), rolled up button down shirts, wide khakis and twirling skirts feel sock hop cute. The youngsters flirt, smooch and jitterbug, ponytails and skirls flying.

Taylor also conjures up a sense of the darkness of the times. There are silhouettes of men marching to war, couples uncoupling and lovers abandoned. This is a gorgeous, multifaceted and complicated piece, rendered sublime by the gifted cast of dancers.

The highlights are the eight solo numbers, which finally give the audience a chance to appreciate the individual personalities of some of the dancers. All shine, but there are three true stand outs. Alex Clayton is the mannerly guy next door in “Tico, Tico” until he is not. John Harnage, in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B), lights up the stage.

But the real show stopper (who pops in every piece, even when she is one of many in the chorus) is Madelyn Ho in “Rum and Coca-Cola.” Spritely, impossibly lissome and exquisitely cute, it is difficult to look away from this beguiling dancer.

Even if modern dance isn’t your “thing,” don’t miss the magic of this high caliber, delightful and uplifting performance. There’s still time!

For tickets and information go to: https://www.celebrityseries.org/productions/paul-taylor-dance-company/

Paul Taylor Dance Company – Artistic Director Michael Novak; Founding Artistic Director – Paul Taylor; Resident Choreography – Lauren Lovette; Lighting Designer – Jennifer Tipton; Costume Design – Donald Martiny; Costume Design – Mark Eric and Santo Loquasto. Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at Boch Center — Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St., Boston, through April 16.

‘Clyde’s’ serves up redemption, one sandwich at a time

Harold Surratt and April Nixon in the Tony Award nominated “Clyde’s.” / KEVIN BERNE

By Shelley A. Sackett/JEWISH JOURNAL

Tikkun Olam, as explained in the Mishnah, is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. There are innumerable ways for us to do tikkun olam in our daily lives, each one with the potential to change everything for everyone.

Although it’s unlikely playwright Lynn Nottage had this concept in mind as she wrote the Tony Award-nominated comedy “Clyde’s,” now in production at the Huntington through April 23, its message runs throughout her play.

The setting (and what a set it is!) is Clyde’s, a truck stop café near Reading, PA. More than a way station for the road-weary, it is also a shelter for its four employees, all felons. For the three recent arrivals who need to show a weekly paycheck to maintain parole, it is also their only shot at getting back on track after derailment. Montrellos (Monty), Clyde’s elder statesman, role model and Zen master, supervises this crew.

Under the annihilative command of Clyde, the owner, achieving that goal is an uphill battle.

The play opens with Clyde and Monty (dressed in bright dashiki and kufi) in mid-conversation. He begs her to taste his latest creation, a sublime twist on the grilled cheese sandwich. She blows cigarette smoke in response. Wearing a glow-in-the-dark orange waist-length wig and exterior black corset, she looks like a cross between a deranged Tina Turner imposter and an S&M dominatrix. The effect is terrifying.

Instead of tasting the sandwich, she uses it to crush out her cigarette, just as she relentlessly snuffs out any hint of hope or happiness she senses smoldering.

The staff live in fear of her temper and she taunts them sadistically with threats to make up a parole violation and report them to the police. Behind the kitchen’s swinging door, without her lurking, they are free to connect and actually enjoy their work. Cautiously, they relearn how to trust, revealing what landed them in the slammer. Letitia, a quick-witted, sassy single mom, broke into a pharmacy to steal unaffordable seizure medicine for her daughter. Rafael, a playful recovering addict, tried to rob a bank with a BB gun while high. Jason, Clyde’s only white employee, is covered in white supremacy tattoos and fresh out of prison for assault.

In his role as mentor, Monty is kind, sage and committed to helping his charges survive their difficult transition. Although he doesn’t reveal why he served time until the play’s end, he has clearly walked the same walk.

His trick is the quest to create the perfect sandwich, that “most democratic of all foods.” Sandwiches can be more than the quotidian ingredients they slap between two pieces of bread for the café’s clientele, Monty counsels. They can reflect their creators’ dreams and truths. They even have the magic power to unlock the gate to their salvation. He is living proof.
The others bite, joining him on his pilgrimage. They bond over shared imaginary recipes, light-heartedly chanting ingredients like tantric mantras. After hours, each secretly works out combos that might earn Monty’s approval and, by extension, launch them toward a sense of self-worth.

Clyde doesn’t see sandwiches (or anything else) through the same rose-tinted lenses as Monty. Although she, too, was imprisoned, empathy and tikkun olam hardly drive her to hire only ex-cons. Rather, she uses them as cheap labor to populate her own sort of jail where she reigns as warden to these “loser” ex-prisoners who float in painful limbo between “real” prison and the ersatz one she has created.

Against great odds, and with Monty’s critical help, her employees ultimately free themselves from her grip by banding together and refusing to follow an order they just cannot abide. Although what triggers their rebellion is on its surface comedic, Nottage deftly handles this turning point moment, plumbing it for deeper beauty, poignancy and strength.

Nottage also has a gift for comedy, and under Taylor Reynold’s tight direction, her zingers are laugh-out-loud funny. The terrific actors playing the kitchen crew are an airtight ensemble that breathe life into their parts.

Unfortunately, the same is not true of the unnuanced Clyde. To be fair, Nottage has created a cardboard caricature, giving the actress little to work with. The distraction of her dozen or so wig and outfit changes only emphasizes the playwright’s missed opportunity in not fully fleshing her out.

Which is too bad, because Clyde exemplifies what can happen when, in pursuit of financial gain and raw power, we lose sight of what really feeds and sustains us. Luckily, her crew has Monty, with his belief in the restorative power of the sandwich, to lead by example and show them a better way.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.huntingtontheatre.org.

A love story in the age of (anti)social media

Jeffrey Song and Eunji Lim in SpeakEasy’s ‘Wild Goose Dreams.” / Photo Credit: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

By Shelley A. Sackett

According to Genesis, the Babylonians wanted to make a name for themselves by building a mighty city and a tower with its top in the heavens. God disrupted the work by so confusing the workers’ language that they could no longer understand one another. The city was never completed, and the people were dispersed over the face of the earth.

Playwright and native South Korean Hansol Jung’s impressive play “Wild Goose Dreams” examines the modern-day Tower of Babel known as the internet, a global nation where algorithms create a universal language that renders its human users more disconnected than connected.

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company, it runs through April 8 at Calderwood Pavillion in Boston.

Set in contemporary Seoul, the plot follows the romance between a married South Korean man, Guk Minsung (Jeffrey Song), and Yoo Nanhee (a terrific Eunji Lim), a North Korean defector. They both travel with more than carry-on baggage.

Minsung is a “goose father,” the label given to a man who stays and works in South Korea while his family lives in an English-speaking country. Because South Korea values fluency in English (and because its education system is fiercely competitive), they are assured a better life when they return. Like their migrating namesakes, these fathers sacrifice for the sake of their offspring, sending money but rarely getting to see them. Minsung’s only means of contact with his wife and daughter are his cellphone and Facebook, and he longs for an-person visit.

Like Minsung, Nanhee is lonely, disoriented and (literally) haunted by the family she lives without. Four years ago, she suddenly and without notice left North Korea and her father (an amusing John D. Haggerty). She too was in search of a better life than she could ever have in that impoverished, repressive place. Her flight was full of peril and trauma; guilt and fear still preoccupy her thoughts and dreams. She sends her father money that she doesn’t know if he receives. He appears to her daily, a ghost-like companion invisible to anyone else.

Paralyzed by second-guessing the choices they made, they are isolated and numb. Theirs will be a textbook love story for the modern, dysfunctional age.

Both turn to the internet and online dating for comfort and connection, and depicting that world is where “Wild Goose Dreams” breaks bold new theatrical ground.

Jung’s intrusive and omnipresent cyberspace is portrayed by director Seonjae Kim as a lively, noisy Greek chorus of wild characters who chant and mime the equivalents of cellphone ringing, emojis and various internet functions (reboot is a stitch!). The costumes, sound effects and choreography are dizzying.

On its surface, this parallel universe is eye candy, entertaining and fun. Yet, just like the “real” internet, it smothers and disrupts, ultimately blurring the thinning line between virtual and actual realms, between fantasy and reality.

Amidst this relentless and chaotic cacophony of popups, “what’s on your mind?” and other distractions, Nanhee (screen name Miner’s Daughter) and Minsung (Gooseman) meet. Though they technically speak the same language, they bring different cultural contexts which Jung uses for both empathic and comic purpose. “Is that a joke?” each asks frequently, followed by “Is it a North/South Korean joke?”

Like post-Tower of Babel Babylonians, these two live in a diaspora where babble is the mother tongue.
While staggering in its imagination, creativity and craftsmanship, Jung’s play is not just humor, gimmickry and ingenuity. Below the surface, the gifted playwright skillfully tackles the broader issues of the genuine and overwhelming challenges we face living in a world of generational, cultural and technological disconnects.

Jung cleverly uses a fairy tale to link the various themes and plotlines. The play opens on a simple set with a storyteller (Nanhee’s father) telling his daughter a bedtime tale about an angel who loses the ability to fly and falls in love with a human. Later, the angel must choose between staying on earth with her lover or regaining her power of flight. These forked paths of freedom or family, taking flight or remaining grounded, will show up for the rest of the play. The personal toll they exact from Nanhee and Minsung shape their relationship and its unforeseen conclusion.

Although the play briefly stalls at an hour (at one hour and forty minutes, it could benefit from an intermission or shortening or both), “Wild Goose Dreams” is nonetheless one of the most exciting, out-of-the-box, charming and well-produced pieces of theater to hit Boston this season. Check it out and enjoy the guaranteed post-theater conversation.

For tickets and information, go to https://speakeasystage.com/.

BLO’s ‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs’ Is A Knockout!

Ryan McKinny, Naomi Louisa O’Connell in BLOs ‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs’

By Shelley A. Sackett

There needs to be a new term coined for BLO’s current production (and all too brief run) of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs.’ “Opera” just doesn’t begin to describe the multi-sensorial experience provided by this inventive, exciting and unique installation event.

For starters, the venue itself is a star. Through sheer brilliance, the Flynn Cruiseport terminal is transformed into pre-show performance spaces that reflect stage and set designers Anne Bogart and Sara Brown’s desire to explore “how spaces can be gendered.” In the “feminine salon,” costumed and bejewel-masked actresses mingle with early arrivals while Yukiko Oba plays an elegant Liberace-worthy piano. In the “masculine” VIP lounge, VIPs enjoy their cocktails in a traditional gentleman’s club.

By the time the audience is seated, there is no doubt that they are about to share a memorable artistic event.

The set is glorious, with a large bed perched in the center of a three-sided stage. The periphery is set up like a Viennese café, with seating areas and a white piano. Six women, dressed in beautiful gowns, float around the perimeter, alighting on one of the tables à deux before moving on and dazzling the audience.

The plot of ‘Bluebeard’ is fairly straightforward with enough twists and surprises to keep viewers engaged. Judith (the iridescent, silver-throated mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell) leaves her family for Bluebeard (the commanding bass-baritone Ryan McKinny) and his dark, gloomy castle. She sees seven locked doors and, despite her trepidation and Bluebeard’s warnings, insists he open them all. Each reveals something unexpected but the grisly finale ties it together with a stunning mixture of choreography and song.

BLO’s production, however, is anything but “straightforward.” Above the bed is a huge lighted frame that changes hue in a way that brings James Turrell to mind. Bluebeard emerges from the empty bed like Poseidon from the deep, tossing aside the first of a dozen enormous gossamer bed coverings. The effect is breathtaking.

The only opera Bartók ever composed, the brief (one-hour) ‘Bluebeard’ is usually performed with another piece. Instead, BLO pairs it with songs by Alma Mahler, furthering the concept of combining the feminine with the masculine. Mahler sublimated her own talent to men, and it seemed to Bogart that there was a connection between Judith and the female composer.

Bogart interweaves the two pieces seamlessly. Before the songs from ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ (sung in German) begin, Judith saunters to the on-stage piano and sings three Mahler songs in English. She then speaks directly to the audience, welcoming them and inviting them to enter the world of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle.’ With impeccable timing and to maximum effect, the voice of Bluebeard rings out as he magically appears on center stage. And the magic of that moment holds up throughout the entire evening.


BLO’s production of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ is an electrifying, artistic happening. Only here until March 26, it is worth dropping everything to secure a ticket. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.

For information and tickets, go to https://blo.org/bluebeard/

‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs’ – Music by Béla Bartók, Libretto by Béla Balázs, Arranged by Eberhard Kloke/Music by Alma Mahler, Arranged by Julian Reynolds. Music Director – David Angus, Stage Director – Anne Bogart; Set Designer – Sara Brown; Costume Designer – Trevor Bowen; Lighting Designer – Brian H. Scott. Presented by Boston Lyric Opera at The Terminal @ Flynn Cruiseport, 1 Black Falcon Ave., Boston through March 26.

Speakeasy’s ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ Is A Surreal Romp Between Two Realities

Ciaran D’Hondt, Fady Demian, Elaine Hom, Ryan Mardesich, Amanda Centeno, and John D. Haggerty in Speakeasy’s ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ Photos by Nile Scott Studios

‘Wild Goose Dreams’ – Written by Hansol Jung. Directed by Seonjae Kim; Scenic Design by Crystal Tiala; Costume Design by Machel Ross; Lighting Design by Kathleen Zhou; Sound Design by George Cooke. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage at The Calderwood Pavillion, Boston through April 8.

By Shelley A. Sackett

On its surface, ‘Wild Goose Dreams,’ lays out parallel tales of migration, sacrifice, and dreams. To fully appreciate Hansol Jung’s brilliant script and Seonjae Kim’s spot-on direction, a little background is helpful. Geese migrate with the seasons, traveling great distances and enduring physical hardships to secure food and shelter for their families. Their survival hinges on uprooting themselves and flying to an unknown place that they hope will provide what they need.

Starting in the 1990s, Korean culture mirrored this concept of sacrifice and travel when fathers who could afford to began sending their families to English-speaking countries so their children could achieve their dreams of a better life when they returned to Korea. Known as “Wild Goose Fathers,” they stayed in Korea to earn money. They, like migrating geese, would see their families only seasonally. “Penguin Fathers,” like those flightless birds, were the Wild Goose Fathers who weren’t sure if or when they would ever see their families due to the exorbitant expense of travel. During this same time period, another kind of migration was taking place in Korea. Many people in North Korea began defecting to the South in search of better lives. These flights were full of peril and trauma.

Lim, Song

‘Wild Goose Dreams’ opens on a simple set with a storyteller (a splendid John D. Hoggerty) setting the play’s overarching narrative through a tale replete with metaphor and symbolism (although the audience won’t realize that until the play progresses). His bedtime tale is about an angel who loses the ability to fly and falls in love with a human. Later, the angel must choose between staying on earth with her lover or regaining her power of flight. These contradictory options of freedom and family, and the personal toll they exact, will overshadow the rest of the show.

Jung’s two main characters are the storyteller’s daughter, Yoo Nanhee (a perfectly cast Eunji Lim), and Guk Minsung (the equally terrific Jeffrey Song). Nanhee is a North Korean defector; Minsung is a Goose Father. Both are lonely, disoriented, and haunted by the family they live without. Nanhee’s father makes daily ghost-like appearances; Minsung’s wife and daughter show up sporadically via cellphone and Facebook.

Ciaran D’Hondt, Jeffrey Song, Ryan Mardesich, and Amanda Centeno

Both turn to the internet and online dating for comfort and contact, and depicting that world is where ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ breaks through a theatrical glass ceiling.

Jung’s cyberspace is interpreted by Kim as a lively, noisy Greek Chorus of wild characters that chant and mime the equivalents of cellphone ringing, emojis and various internet functions (reboot is a stitch!). The costumes (Machel Ross), sound effects (George Cooke), and choreography are dazzling.

Amidst this chaotic cacophony of popups, “what’s on your minds” and other distractions, Nanhee (screen name ‘Miner’s Daughter’) and Minsung (‘Gooseman’) meet. Though they technically speak the same language, they bring different cultural contexts which Jung uses for both empathic and comic purpose. “Is that a joke?” each asks frequently, followed by “Is it a North/South Korean joke?”

Despite these communication disconnects, the two share an innocence and ease brought to life by Lim and Song’s effortless portrayals. They are both “lonely and paralyzed,” both preoccupied with those far away and bewildered by the terrain they now inhabit. Yet, both are open to redefining their lives to reflect their growing live (vs virtual) intimacy.

Song, Lim

“Do we have impact on each other?” Minsung asks. “Couldn’t we call that love? Couldn’t that be enough for now?”

Jung’s play is not just humor, gimmickry, and imagination. Below the surface, the gifted playwright skillfully tackles the broader issue of the real and overwhelming challenges we face living in a world of generational, cultural, and technological disconnects. Her ‘Wild Goose Dreams’ is an entertaining, fun, well-produced piece of theater that is guaranteed to spark post-performance conversation.

For information and tickets, go to https://speakeasystage.com/

Wild Goose Dreams’ – Written by Hansol Jung. Directed by Seonjae Kim; Scenic Design by Crystal Tiala; Costume Design by Machel Ross; Lighting Design by Kathleen Zhou; Sound Design by George Cooke. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage at The Calderwood Pavillion, Boston through April 8.

‘The Great Leap’ Tackles Bigger Issues Than Basketball 

Tyler Simahk, Barlow Adamson, and Gary Thomas Ng in The Great Leap at Lyric Stage

By Shelley A. Sackett

Award-winning playwright Lauren Yee has skin in the game with her play, ‘The Great Leap,’ now making its Boston premiere at Lyric Stage Company. Her father, a rare 6’1” Asian-American basketball player, was part of the 1981 team the US sent to China for a “friendship game” between Beijing University and the University of San Francisco. The Americans were demolished during the exhibition games.

Yee suspects the team, composed of non-NBA, non-college players, was hand-picked by the Chinese so the Americans would lose. Her father, who recounted his experiences to her as she wrote her play, was very helpful. “On stage, you’ll see a version of my father; it’s not pretending to be him,” Yee says in the program notes.

She sets her drama in 1989, a year that saw rising demonstrations for political and economic reform in Tiananmen Square. Using humor, spicy vernacular and some actual on-stage dribbling sequences, she weaves together an absorbing story while making some astute points about the intersection and consequences of politics, cultural identity and human foibles.

The plot is pretty straightforward.

It is 1989. Manford (an outstanding Tyler Simahk), “the most feared basketball player in Chinatown,” is a pushy and single-minded 17-year-old. The play opens with him confronting the San Francisco University basketball coach, Saul (a first-rate Barlow Adamson), demanding that Saul put him on the team he is taking to China to play in an exhibition match against Beijing University on June 3 and 4.

Saul has heard of Manford, ”the only guy who got thrown out of a game for fighting with his own teammate.” Manford knows a thing or two about Saul, too, and wastes no time striking at Saul’s Achilles’ heel. With an 8-20 losing record, his career is circling the drain. A loss to a Chinese team would finish him. Only Manford can rescue him from this fate.

“I am the most relentless person you ever met,” Manford taunts.

Turns out Coach Saul was at the helm of the team that traveled to Beijing in 1971 to advise a politically appointed amateur, Wen Chang (an outwardly cardboard but inwardly emotive Gary Thomas Ng) about the American game of basketball. This was at the height of the ferocious Cultural Revolution. Wen’s assignment was more about his Communist “rehabilitation” than a perfect job match.

Jihan Haddad, Adamson

Eighteen years later, Saul is headed back for a rematch against Wen. Manford’s mission is to convince Saul that the Americans will lose unless Manford is on the team. He’s better than any point guard Saul has on his SFU roster and he knows what Saul will be facing when he returns to Beijing. “Eighteen years ago, you went as their guest. You’re going back as their enemy,” he warns.

Manford has another reason he needs to return, and that hidden secret drives the ending’s delicious plot twist and would be an unconscionable spoiler to reveal. He has just lost his mother, who fled Beijing before he was born and whom he claims he didn’t really know (she spoke only Chinese). His father was never in the picture. He now lives with the family of his “cousin” Connie (a terrific Jihan Haddad), a 25-year-old graduate student and Manford’s cheerleader and True North.

The rest of the almost two-hour (one intermission) production flips back and forth between 1971 and 1989, filling in the gaps in the storyline and fleshing out its four characters. The flashbacks to 1971 (wonderfully costumed by Seth Bodie) contrast the brash, arrogant Saul and Wen, the hollowed-out victim of a regime he hates but resignedly obeys. Eighteen years later, their positions and perspectives have shifted. Wen is on top of his game and is chomping at the bit to give Saul a taste of the medicine he dished out in 1971.

Yee tackles many big-ticket issues in her play (the human cost of the Cultural Revolution, taking a stand vs standing still, living an authentic life, and cultural identity) and by its end, we understand her four characters and what makes them tick. Although overlong and in need of some editing, “The Great Leap” is greatly satisfying and its ending alone is worth the price of admission.

For tickets and information, go to:www.lyricstage.com

The Great Leap – Written by Lauren Yee. Directed by Michael Hisamoto. Scenic Design by Baron E. Pugh. Costume Design by Seth Bodie. Lighting Design by Michael Clark Wonson. Sound Design by Elizabeth Cahill. Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston through March 19, 2023.

A film about an opera written at a Nazi concentration camp on screen in Beverly

“The Kaiser of Atlantis” director Sebastián Alfie adapted charcoal sketches made by Terezín prisoners for the film’s animated sequences./COURTESY PHOTO

By Shelley A. Sackett

Argentine filmmaker Sebastián Alfie saw the opera, “The Kaiser of Atlantis,” by chance. He was visiting his hometown Buenos Aires in 2006, and happened to get tickets to the Teatro Colón, where it was playing. He was amazed by the music and the story surrounding it.

Composer Viktor Ullmann’s chamber opera, with a libretto by Peter Kien, was written in 1943 while they were imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt (Terezín). It tells the story of the Emperor of Atlantis, a tyrant bent on waging endless war. It was rehearsed in 1944, but never performed at Terezín because that October, most of the musicians were deported to Auschwitz, where Ullmann and Kien were killed.

The manuscript, however, survived, and through a series of lucky coincidences, ended up in the hands of London-based musician and arranger Kerry Woodward, who conducted the world première of the piece in Amsterdam in 1975.

Alfie researched the opera and its history, and discovered no one had told its remarkable story, but at that time he lacked the resources to film it. Seven years in the making, his documentary, “The Kaiser of Atlantis,” tells the remarkable journey of the opera from its creation in 1943 to its large-scale staging at Madrid’s Teatro Real nearly 80 years later.

The film will have its U.S. première as part of Salem Film Fest on Sunday, March 26, at 2:30 p.m. at The Cabot in Beverly. Alfie will join viewers for a live, post-screen Q&A. The film has been selected by festivals in over 20 countries and has so far won nine awards.

“Kaiser” intertwines several narrative threads, from the opera’s collaborative origin to Woodward’s own deep connection to its composer and his work to the newest production in Madrid by the late stage director Gustavo Tambascio and conductor Pedro Halffter. It took Alfie two years to edit his film, “cleaning” what wasn’t moving the story forward.

There is even a mystical strand, involving Woodward’s connection to Rosemary Brown, the late English spiritualist, composer, and pianist who claimed that dead composers dictated new works to her. Respected in her time, even Leonard Bernstein sought Brown’s counsel.

“I think this is the first time that a medium takes part in a Holocaust documentary … as far as I know,” Alfie said by email from Spain, where he is now based. Woodward maintained that he was able to connect with Ullmann through Brown to address questions regarding the original score.

Alfie included music and animation to great artistic effect. He found inspiration for the animated sequences in actual drawings made by prisoners who used pieces of charcoal to sketch on the back of Nazi registration forms. These were adapted by the film’s animators.

“I needed to explain the plot of the opera, and animation was the perfect tool to do it,” Alfie said. He also needed to fill in the gaps about parts of the story that had been lost forever. There is almost no photographic record of Viktor Ullmann, for example, and animation was a good way of representing his biography.

When Alfie interviewed Dagmar Lieblova, a Czech Terezín survivor who appears in the film, he was deeply affected. Until her death in 2018, and well into her 80s, she was a tireless lecturer at Terezin, conducting classes with students of all nationalities. “Meeting her was the most emotional part of the entire filmmaking process for me,” he said.

Alfie hopes audiences will leave the film with greater understanding of the sacrifices Ullmann, Kien, and their friends made and the role art can play when fighting for what we think is just. The film’s dire warning about tyrants is as relevant today as it was in 1943.

“If we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeat them. When rulers play with war in order to gain popular support, they are playing with fire and putting us all at risk,” he said. Θ

The Salem Film Fest runs from March 23 to April 2. For information and tickets, visit salemfilmfest.com.

Author to tell Golda Meir’s story through a feminist lens at JCCNS

Pnina Lahav, author of “The Only Woman in the Room”

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD — There is no dearth of books about and by Golda Meir, the Israeli politician, teacher, and kibbutznik who served as the fourth prime minister from 1969 to 1974. Yet, as far as Pnina Lahav was concerned, Meir’s real story was still untold.

The former law professor and member of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University last September published, “The Only Woman in the Room: Golda Meir and Her Path to Power,” which looks at Meir through a feminist lens, focusing on her recurring role as a woman standing alone among men. The meticulously researched book is chockful of anecdotes that flesh out Meir’s full identity as a woman, Jew, wife, mother, and Zionist leader who was one of the founders of Israel.

On Tuesday, March 21 at 7 p.m., the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead will sponsor “An Evening with Pnina Lahav,” where the Israel-born scholar will talk about her new book with this Journal correspondent and answer questions from the audience. The event is part of the Israel at 75 series and will be followed by a dessert reception.

The idea for the book emerged as Lahav approached retirement and found herself reflecting on her career and what had most resonated with her over the decades. In 1998, she wrote her first biography, an award-winning book about Shimon Agranat, the third president of the Supreme Court of Israel. She had enjoyed both the process and the positive reviews and prizes it earned.

While searching for a special retirement gift to herself, she came up with the perfect idea: She would write another biography and return to the topic that had held her interest for half a century, since she published her first article in 1974 titled, “The Status of Women In Israel: Myth and Reality.”

“I decided to explore how Golda, the most successful Israeli politician of the 20th century and the fourth and only woman prime minister, functioned between the myth of equality and the reality of misogyny,” Lahav told the Journal. The title is both a play on the famous statement, attributed to David BenGurion, that Golda was ‘the only man in the room,’ and a tip of the hat to the fact that Golda surrounded herself with men. She made sure she was indeed the only woman in her political room.

Lahav’s biggest challenge was covering the entire history of Israel through a gender-oriented lens, from the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) to the Yom Kippur War (1973). She hopes today’s Jewish woman learns a lesson of perseverance from reading about Golda’s life story.

“If you want something with all your heart, try to get it, try to do it all, and do not fear criticism. At the end, you will be a happier person.” Lahav said. Θ

The event is free to JCCNS members, $10 for the community. To register, visit jccns.org.