Bubbe Meises: Grandma Stories | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Bubbe Meises: Grandma Stories


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Northlight Theatre, at Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center.

American literature and theater have honored patriarchs like Tevye the Dairyman, who fights to retain his identity in a changing world, but have rarely shown the struggles and triumphs of Jewish matriarchs. In playwright-composer Ellen Gould's Bubbe Meises, however, we journey with a thirtysomething woman who evokes the spirits of her two immigrant grandmothers.

Northlight Theatre's production beautifully celebrates the music and text. Director Russell Vandenbroucke has cast three dynamic actresses with wonderful voices: Anne Kanengeiser as the granddaughter, Marilynn Bogetich as Bubbe Gittel, and Renee Matthews as Bubbe Annie all offer complex, believable, deeply compassionate portrayals. Vandenbroucke's perfectly paced scenes and balanced stage pictures combine with Marla Lampert's choreography and Jeff Lewis's musical direction to richly evoke the story's images, from Bubbe Gittel as a young socialist to Bubbe Annie imitating the actresses in the Yiddish theater. Gould's songs, some written with Holly Gewandter, resurrect the important moments in their lives, lessons being given to the granddaughter: Matthews sings "Take More Out of Life" with gutsy fervor, and Bogetich sings "Goldstein, Swank & Gordon" with tenderness and pride.

Though Bubbe Meises preserves the uniqueness of Yiddish culture, it also resonates on a universal level. We learn, as does the granddaughter, that we're not isolated creatures but part of an ongoing cycle. And Northlight's production is part of the chain.

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