The Talmud

Lucie Allouche, Abrielle Kuo, Jae Woo and Eli M. Schoenfeld perform in a mashup of The Talmud and Kung-Fu movies.
Does this theatrical experiment prove or debunk the rumor that NYC’s true artists have moved to Sunset Park?

By Andrew Andrews

Target Margin’s mission is to expand our conception of what can take place in a theater by re-imagining classic sources. Nothing better exemplifies that goal than their latest production of Meta-Phys Ed’s The Talmud—a mash-up of that ancient Jewish text with modern dance inspired by kung fu movies. On one of the most technology-centered sets I’ve seen since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the production beckons fans of either (or both!) to Sunset Park for an experimental experience unlike any I’ve ever seen.

With the lights on, the set appears to be no more than a checkboard pattern painted on the floor, with movable sheer drapery panels suspended from the ceiling in two parallel rows. But when the lights go out, whoa! The panels transform into a backdrop for handsomely-designed projections of Hebrew and English text, and the performers take the stage to interpret these quotes with modern dance, using motions and poses inspired by movies that were in turn inspired by Chinese martial arts.

During those initial moments of the performance, I was almost certain I’d be delivering another five-star rating, following in the footsteps of Decky Does a Bronco, which I reviewed earlier this week. Without resorting to too much exaggeration, I felt the dance effectively conveyed the story’s drama through strikes, throws and stances, and it was clear that a lot of effort went into developing the lighting, sound and projections to integrate with the acting.

As the play progressed, however, I could visualize those five stars slowly falling away, with too much distracting tech and not enough tension to keep me engaged. With ubiquitous smart phones taking over the play to generate live video projections ad nauseum, the technology became annoying, as it seemed this production wanted to use every gimmick they could dream up, like someone who litters their lawn with classical statuary without considering the overall effect.

Meanwhile, the creative dance gradually decayed to mere pronounced movements around the stage. The focus on repeating and analyzing the texts grew tedious, and the actors showed noticeable difficulty remembering and reciting their lines. Like a bait-and-switch tactic from an unscrupulous department store, I felt like I had been suckered into attending a theatre performance, only to find myself in a religious study group with a team of lawyers obsessing over a single paragraph that reads like the iTunes Terms and Conditions.

I can’t figure out whether mashing martial arts with ancient texts is a great idea that needs more work, or a bad idea that somehow sounds cooler than it is. What I do know is that Meta-Phys Ed needs to tone down the tech and spice up the delivery if they want to hone this experiment into something more palatable.

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Andrew Andrews attended The Talmud at Target Margin Theater Doxsee Theater in Brooklyn on Thursday, September 12, 2019 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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