Despite the ironic and sardonic spirit that infuses the Yiddish language, the mame loshen also has its bleak and tragic side. In Peretz Hirshbein’s 1905 Yiddish play “Carcass,” now being presented, in English translation, by the New Worlds Theatre Project, a Jewish family is wrenched apart by poverty and despair. It runs through this weekend in the South Village.
Directed by Paul Takacs, “Carcass” is the squalid tale of an alcoholic patriarch, Avrush (David Greenspan), a horse breeder who was thrown out by his first wife, Shprintze (Catherine Rossetter) after they had two children, Mend’l (Alvin Keith) and Nechomele (Robyn Kerr). Now remarried to a fish seller, Breine (Rossetter), Avrush tries to re-establish a relationship with his dim-witted son, but Mend’l, who skins dead horses for a living, blames his father for the pain and emptiness of his life. Meanwhile, Rayz’l (Rebekah Levin), Avrush’s stepdaughter, tries not to abandon hope, even as she is crushed by the unbridled violence and lust that the members of the family direct toward each other.
Hirshbein, the son of a miller in Grodno (near the Polish-Lithuanian border), tried farming before turning his hand to poetry and playwriting. While his early plays, like “Di Neveyle” (originally penned in Hebrew) were in a realistic style, his later plays, for which he is best known, take place mostly in pastoral settings; among his best-known works are “Grine Felder” (Green Fields), “A Farvorfn Vinkel” (A Secluded Corner), and “Di Puste Kretschme” (The Vacant Inn). His work has been popular Off Broadway in recent years, in both Yiddish and English-language productions.
Ellen Perecman is the artistic director of New Worlds, which she launched in 2005 as the Diaspora Drama Group; the company staged “Carcass,” in a different production, as its inaugural offering. In an interview, Perecman told The Jewish Week that “Carcass” is about “desperate characters who don’t keep things inside — people who don’t hold anything back.” Yet she pointed as well to “beautiful, tender moments” that humanize the characters.
Perecman hopes that modern productions of Yiddish plays will entice theatergoers to learn Yiddish in order to be able to read the plays in the original. According to Perecman, who calls herself “one of the last native speakers of Yiddish” in her generation, “the literature doesn’t have to die with the language. We can give Jews something to be proud of. Yiddish isn’t just a language of insults and curses.”
“Carcass” runs through this Sunday at HERE, 145 Sixth Ave. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. For tickets, $18, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.here.org.