Off-Broadway Review: THE SINGING WINDMILLS (Theater 71)

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by Jacob Lansky on June 1, 2022

in Theater-New York

A WIND BLOWS THROUGH IT

In 1949, after the Moscow State Jewish Theater was closed, members of Stalin’s secret police were busy burning down stage sets, props, costumes and books. The head of the theater, Solomon Mikhoels, did not live to see that day. His life was extinguished a year earlier. He didn’t witness the flame eradicate his life’s work; his theater. A theater, which stood at the top of Moscow’s vanguard theater scene, equivalent only to those of Vaghtanghov’s, Meyerhold’s, and Tairov’s. A theater, where to get a show ticket was almost impossible, even though the productions were staged in Yiddish, and more than half the audience did not understand the language the actors spoke. Unaware of what they were doing, the NKVD henchmen singlehandedly elevated GOSET Theater to an almost mythical status.

Written by Roman Freud, The Singing Windmills explores the life and work of the legendary actor Mikhoels, who was also chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. The production attempts to make sense of and restore the lives and art of legendary heroes, whose breath was cut short and whose legacy was erased. This production ponders on eternal questions, the fate of an artist, the secrets behind inspiration and the price that one is willing to pay for it. Speaking in Russian, the New York-based Russian, Ukrainian and Israeli actors have joined hands and voices during this time of horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, by offering an encore run that plays through June 12.

This production is not about the cruelty of a repressive regime, but about the life, the love, the art, and the fate of an artist. The actors were solid and sympathetic, and it’s a very noble attempt, but sadly the script was unfocused; while it had some engaging monologues it didn’t pull you into the world of the show the way well-crafted drama would. And Gera Sandler’s direction was muddy; for one thing it didn’t create enough distinction between the actors’ portrayals in Windmills, which concerns provincial performers from Kiev going to audition and, they hope, ply their craft at a theater in Moscow, and their character’s performances in the play within the show. Also, the supertitles were projected onto a lit, uneven background, which made them very difficult to read for my theatergoing companion (I speak Russian myself), and their bare-bones translation failed to capture some useful nuances of the dialogue. It’s also a shame that the chairs were like sitting in a half-opened clam. As a voice against current Russian atrocities, the play makes sense, but it may be best for Russian-speaking theatergoers.

photos by Marina Levitskaya

The Singing Windmills
PM Theater Company and Fooksman Family Foundation
in association with COJECO
in Russian with English Subtitles
Theater 71, 152 w 71st Street (between Broadway and Columbus)
ends on June 12, 2022
for tickets, visit The Singing Windmills

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