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Playwright Rebecca Joy Fletcher’s dramatized cabaret, “Cities of Light,” is a unifying embodiment of the inner strength required in the creative process.
In this Piven Theatre Workshop production, the exploration of Jewish cabaret during the 1920s and 1930s and its migration due to Nazi occupation is an eye-opening, existentialist tale of hardships endured by those who wished to express themselves and the world they inhabited through their art.
This courage is also defined by the two women who comprise this work, Alison Hendrix, who acts, sings and plays the piano, and Ms. Fletcher, the show’s creator, chanteuse – and possibly dybbuk (Yiddish for a spirit that inhabits living souls).
These two brave performers are responsible for the majority of the music in a show centered on musical performance (aside from some ambient interludes during some of the show’s darker moments). During a large portion of the show, they wear little more than silk slips, a metaphor for the rights stripped away from the Jews during that terrible time in history.
Framed as a lecture on the subject of Jewish cabaret artists during the period, a professor (Ms. Hendrix) is interrupted by a diva (Ms. Fletcher) who quickly proclaims, “Evanston … I’ve seen worse.” Humor is prevalent in both the play and in several songs, originally written between the late 1920s and 1946, and the unseen wall between audience and performers is shattered here time and again.
The two actresses transport the audience to four cities that Ms. Fletcher holds most representative of the art form during the time: Berlin, Warsaw, Paris and Tel Aviv. This leads to an eclectic mix of Jewish cabaret songs sung in English, Polish, Yiddish, German, etc. This is not an easy production to perform, but the chemistry between Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Hendrix is evident. Director Marti Lyons keeps the flow from city to city, and with the sparse set, lighting designer Mac Vaughey works overtime to define different places and moods.
“Cities of Light” is a serious and scholarly look at an ominous time in Europe, a time when, after World War I, wounds were mending and Jewish artists were flourishing, all the while under a cloud of a rapidly approaching horror. The audience is presented with all their joy, exuberance, sadness, melancholy and ultimately, their perseverance.
Oh, and “Oy, Madagaskar!” brings the house down.
“Cities of Light” runs through Dec. 11 at Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes St.