Arts & Events

THEATER REVIEW: Inferno Theatre's 'Female, Ashkenazi with a Sewing Machine'

Ken Bullock
Saturday May 06, 2017 - 05:51:00 PM

"It's a live oak.

" Her branches extend forever. Did I use the right pronoun?"

"People here can be picky about pronouns."

Jamie Greenblatt's play 'Female, Ashkenazi with a Sewing Machine,' opens with a musical, sweet and humorous courtship vignette, a couple at an old tree. Anna (a strong, affecting performance by elissa Clason) has appeared on Benjamin's (a debonaire and humorous Benoît Monin) "Jewish radar." But she knows nothing about being Jewish, in every sense. She was adopted, an old Singer sewing machine her only link to her otherwise unknown birth mother.

As the play unfolds, like a parable being worked out, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer leads to revelations about identity, community, origin ...

'Female, Ashkenazi ... ' comes from Jamie Greenblatt's own experience, though both the playwright abd her actual circumstances are different from her protagonist. The play is, in fact, playful, without neglecting the seriousness of the disease it turns on, and that is where the excellent collborative production by Inferno Theatre expands on the playwright's vision. 

Inferno's founder, Giulio Perrone, has directed the fine cast in a graceful movement theater show, the lines of which are like those traced by a feather floating on air. There is a kind of narrator, or introducer, who speaks directly to the audience and takes on different incidental roles, delightfully performed by Crystal Brown. Carol Braves appears onstage playing original music on violin throughout, strolling, dancing, singing as she plays. 

There's such a light touch (though with strength behind it) to this play and this production of it, that any extended dwelling here on what would ordinarily be plot, characterization ... could be more than just a "spoiler." Suspense, big displays of pathos aren't the thing here. It's very close to pure theater, pure storytelling ... 

Perrone's stage design and Mike Sweeney's lighting are both excellent, adding immeasurably to the very pleasing overall effect. 

Jamie Greenblatt's managing director of Inferno Theatre, which also produced her play 'My Recollect Time' in 2013. 

Only two performances of 'Askenazi, Female ... ' remain--Saturday and Sunday, May 6 & 7, at 8. I urge you to see it. 

At the landmark South Berkeley Community Church, 1802 Fairview at Ellis, three blocks west of Adeline, near Ashvy BART. $10-$25 or 788-6415