Yet another actor sheds his clothing and takes a bath in “Enemies: A Love Story,” a theatrically rewarding stage adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer sad and funny short story, the second and superior production of the new Cherry Orchard Festival. I’ve seen four nude bathing scenes on New York stages this year, but this one at the Rose Theater in Lincoln Center makes the most sense.
It is 1949, and Herman Broder (Israel Demidov) sits passively in his tub in Coney Island while his wife Yadwiga (Natasha Manor) lovingly pours water from a pitcher onto his back, and bathes him as if he were a child. Somehow this moment shows you everything about their relationship. Yadwiga was Herman’s servant back in Poland, and, a Gentile, she saved him from the Nazis by hiding him in a hayloft in the barn. After the war, his family killed, he married Yadwiga and brought her to the United States.
Herman feels obligated to her, but he is bored by her, which is why he has a mistress, Masha (Efrat Ben Zur), also a Holocaust survivor. Events overtake Herman: It turns out his first wife, Tamara (Lilian Ruth), was not killed during the war – and she too is now in New York. And then both Yadwiga and Masha become pregnant…and Masha wants Herman to marry her. He agrees.
The story is familiar to those who have seen the 1990 movie version with Ron Silver and Anjelica Huston, but it is instructive to compare this play with the first festival offering, Giacomo Variations which starred John Malkovich as Casanova. Herman is not a sophisticated Lothario. He is an unhappy man. The production is by the Gesher Theater of Israel, which is made up primarily of Russian-born and Moscow-trained actors who speak in Hebrew, with a simultaneous “in ear” English or Russian translation available.
At two and a half hours, “Enemies A Love Story” is too long, and the translation device was technically spotty, occasionally conking out. But the stagecraft is visually striking and inventive, with much intelligent use of live video projections. Added to this the visceral acting, riveting even with a man translating all the parts in your ear, and “Enemies: A Love Story” made me feel longing for a visit to Russia or Israel just to see their theater, and grateful that I don’t have to leave New York in order to experience it.
Based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Adaptation by Yevgeny Arye and Roee Chen
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, Time Warner Center, New York City (Broadway & 60th Street at The Time Warner Center)
Remaining performances for this limited engagement will be held on June 7 at 8:00PM, June 8th 8:00PM and June 9 at 2:00PM. Tickets are $45-$135.