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The Jewish Melody, and Other Definitions of Confinement

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Short Story Theatre, at the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center.

Midway through this adaptation of five short stories by late Russian author Dmitry Stonov, a thought sneaks up on you: unlike most flat, imitative adaptations, Marco Benassi and Tim Clue's solidly acted, shrewdly designed The Jewish Melody creates a stunning collection of images faithful to Stonov's work but also uncompromisingly theatrical.

Based on Stonov's accounts of the five years he spent in a Siberian work camp during the 50s, the show begins effectively but rather predictably with chilling images of anonymous prisoners in threadbare clothing and prison guards stalking the stage in boots and overcoats. But rather than mine the natural drama of prisoner-guard relationships, Benassi and Clue weave an increasingly complex tapestry of scenes that bring initially unknown characters into full focus. By the time Stonov's soft-spoken stories of prison nightmares, solitary confinement, heartache, and betrayal are complete, Benassi and Clue have created a startlingly profound and mature work of art, as the generic and obvious become dramatic and personal. A simple framing device--the opening scene is repeated at the end, elucidating what at first seemed inexplicable--is a masterstroke.

Videotaped interviews with Stonov's widow and charismatic, articulate son Leonid and daughter-in-law Natasha, all of whom live in the Chicago area, are shown between scenes. Though there's nothing theatrical about these interviews, they shed further light on a frightening period and the life of a generally unknown writer. Leonid and Natasha Stonov will be present for after-show discussions on Thursday nights.

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