A singer songwriter's frank engagement with the fallible Jewish male enlivens “Jewish Chronicles” –- a one man cabaret show at the Soho Playhouse now through November 16th.
Daniel Cainer was working steadily as a musician and composer in Great Britain when he lost his sense of purpose in a severe midlife crisis. At a therapist’s suggestion, Cainer began piecing together a sense of identity via a musical exploration of his ancestral roots. Now the Yamaha logo of his keyboard says Yamulke in a typical moment of self satire.
A fourth generation British Jew, Cainer shares that group’s ethnic discretion, while struggling with their attachment to all that marks them — and him — as somehow different from other Europeans.
Stories of his family members recall biblical accounts of the ethical dilemnas of Abraham, the wiles of Jacob, the womanizing King David along with the later, candid Talmudic tales of rabbinic foibles. In the Cainer repertory, an immigrant tailor steals his partner’s invention, his so-called Aunt Rae is welcomed to the Shabbos table by his grandmother determined to lift her lovelorn husband’s depressive spirits, a bad rabbi remains unrepentant about his addictions to women and cocaine and Cainer’s own dad fathers the child of a woman whom he meets at a laundromat after dropping Daniel off at Hebrew School.
Cainer’s journey is light on exploration of religious ideas while incisive about his characters' complex and fallible humanity. While women figure in these stories, they are secondary to the fathers and grandfathers whose struggles with Jewish manhood live on in this songwriter’s own vulnerability while in search for identity and direction.
His performance is distinguished by a clever and original use of language, a talent for bringing characters to vivid life and a musicality that combines the best of diverse rhythms and robust piano, while his melodic lines manage to be both fresh and familiar. His show is honest, edgy, touching and unpredictable; it will leave you tapping your toes and longing for more of his musical ebullience and reticent charm.
In the opening song, Cainer lets us know that he “comes from there” and is embarked “on a journey to God knows where.” Like the best of art, much is hinted at rather than resolved, inviting our own exploration of essence and mystery, present and past.
“Jewish Chronicles,” part of the “Edinburgh Encores” series at the Soho Playhouse, plays on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through November 16th, 15 Vandam Street, New York.
Susan Reimer-Torn is the author of the recently published memoir, "Maybe Not Such a Good Girl."