Off-Broadway Review: CRAZY MESHUGGA HURRICANE EARTHQUAKE (New Yiddish Rep at Theater for the New City)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on January 16, 2022

in Theater-New York

A PLAY TO MAKE YOU KVELL AND KVETCH

Crazy Meshugga Hurricane Earthquake by Amy Coleman is a play about parallels. Parallel religious practices. Parallel childhoods. Parallel abuses. Parallel fathers. Parallel lives. And Ms. Coleman’s attempt to bring all these parallel situations together is both the strength and weakness of her play. While Ms. Coleman has a very good ear for dialogue and creates distinctive, realistic characters — the structural expertise needed to unite the many strands of plot that she sets up seems beyond her grasp at the moment.

Amy Coleman as Lenora, Jacob S. Louchheim as Shlomo.

At the start, the play seemingly centers on the troubled life of young Yossi, heart-breakingly portrayed by Andrew Hardigg. Yossi is a Hasidic young man, maybe early twenties, apparently banished from the Hasidic community. He longs for direct contact with his rejecting, emotionally distant, strict father — an intimidating man effectively played by Jonathan Dauermann. Yossi’s age is never confirmed in the play, though he behaves younger than he looks, especially in scenes with his father. This is just one of many missing, anchoring details that make the play difficult to follow at times.

Amy Coleman, Kelly Walters and Andrew Hardigg.

Yossi is suffering from schizophrenia and at the top of the play, his caretaker (a childhood friend, ex-Hassid, now hipster) is moving out of the apartment they share and a new caretaker is moving in. The new caretaker, a recently retired, middle-aged schoolteacher (with sparse training in assisting the mentally ill), is named Lenora Klein (boldly played by Ms. Coleman). Lenora tries her best to help the difficult to deal with Yossi. As represented by these two characters, the play also sparks an interesting debate between two distinct communities, the Hassidic Jewish community vs. the secular Jew. As the play continues, the voids in Lenora’s own life (an emotionally distant father, competitive younger sister, traumatizing childhood) become more apparent. Lenora develops more compassion for Yossi, even growing to love him, as she recognizes similar suffering in his life. When the play ends, a few years after it begins, the audience is left to wonder who was actually helping whom?

Kelly Walters as Bettina, Lenora's sister.

Yossi is an original, fascinating, compelling character: as he trusts Lenora more, she grows in her caretaking capabilities, and their exchanges have some of the funniest, most compelling and most engaging writing that Ms. Coleman offers — particularly one beautifully written, gut-wrenching monologue Yossi has about his childhood abuse that Mr. Hardigg strongly delivers. But, as stated earlier, the play is not just about their relationship. The play also becomes about Lenora’s difficult life as well. And that’s unfortunate. The two storylines rarely complement each other and mostly compete for attention. Ultimately, the play is actually about Lenora’s journey to a better life and healthier sense of self, even though Yossi is the much more interesting character.

Amy Coleman as Lenora, Jonathan Dauermann as Mr. Schwartz, Andrew Hardigg as Yossi.

Crazy Meshugga Hurricane Earthquake is not a good play. But it’s also not a bad play. It feels like a work-in-progress that is definitely deserving of further development and attention, as there is a very good play in there somewhere. Ms. Coleman has a strong writer’s voice and a definite point of view that warrants further exposure. The production is loosely directed by David Mandelbaum, and this lack of focus is reflected in the performances. While it works for Yossi to a certain extent, it does not seem useful to the other four cast members’ acting or the audience’s understanding. Production values are threadbare but don’t detract from the evening.

Amy Coleman as Lenora; Jonathan Dauermann as Social Worker.

photos by Jonathan Slaff

Crazy Meshugga Hurricane Earthquake
New Yiddish Rep
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
run time: 90 minutes
ends on January 19, 2022
for tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit TFTNC or Ovation Tix

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