From January 12 to 19, 2022, Theater for the New City will present the New Yiddish Rep production of “Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake” by Amy coleman, directed by David Mandelbaum. This six-figure play is the story of an unlikely bond that develops between a secular, middle-aged Jewish woman and a young Hasidic man struggling with schizophrenia. Hired to be his babysitter, the woman tries to give him the support he needs, but discovers that his agenda may have more to do with his own needs than his. The play offers important lessons in love and trust.
This play is the first in a series of two-part plays presented by Theater for the New City that address identity, schizophrenia, and empowerment in New York’s Hasidic Jewish communities. The second, played from January 22 to 30, is “Di Froyen” (Les Femmes) by Melissa Weisz and Malky goldman, directed by Rachel Botchan. It lifts the veil on the fate of women in abusive relationships, in this case in the Hasidic community. More info, see: https://www.jsnyc.com/season/di_froyen.htm.
In “Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake,” a recently retired music teacher named Lenora Kline searches for meaning in her life when she responds to an ad on Craigslist for a home janitor job for Yossi Schwartz, a paranoid schizophrenic young man from a Hasidic Context. Due to the stigma of mental illness, Yossi was isolated from his family and community and wandered around hospitals until he met Lenora. What emerges is a curious relationship between Jews from different worlds. Yossi has an openness of character and a surprising mind that makes him easy to love and bring up. He is beautiful, intuitive and funny; charming but hopelessly ill. He is also marked by the fact of having been sexually assaulted in his youth by a man whom the community inadvertently allows to continue his predations due to his reluctance to involve the police or to expose these problems publicly. Ultimately, Leonora discovers that by trying to heal Yossi, she was actually trying to heal her relationship with her late father, who also suffered from mental illness.
The play beautifully portrays the minds of paranoid schizophrenics and how they react to the world. Yossi’s situation is actually a window into the deficiencies of our mental health system, which lacks understanding of the disorders it treats and relies too heavily on current drug therapies. Patients are sidelined from their families, sentenced to psychiatric wards or locked out on the streets, while social workers are so overworked that they lose all empathy. Yossi longs for a deep bond with his family, but his father has twelve other children and his main concern is to marry them. Any known mental health issue in the family would stigmatize them and reduce the ability to play a decent game.
Although in English, the piece is peppered with Yiddish phrases and idioms.
The actors are Andrew Hardigg (as Yossi), Amy coleman (like Lenora), Jacob Louchheim, Thomas morris, Kurt perry, and Kelly walters. The scenographer is Marc Marcante. The lighting designer is Alexander Bartenieff.
Amy coleman has already written a few collaborations but this is his first serious play. She recently obtained her social worker license. She attributes the Barrow Group dramatic writing lessons for helping her get the structure needed to make this play work. Her performing career began with a successful cabaret show, “Face to the Wall” by Brian lasser, for which she twice received the award for best singer of the year by Backstage. In regional theater, she appeared as Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the voice in “Little Shop of Horrors” and the Gypsy Queen in “Tommy”. She played Janis Joplin in the original Off-Broadway production of “Beehive” at Village Gate and played the role of Vickie in “The Last Session.” At La MaMa, she appears with André De Shields in “Kiss me when it’s over”. She has appeared at the Theater for the New City with Jimmy Camicia’s Hot Peaches and has toured internationally with the troupe. For many years she collaborated with the Italian composer Enzo Fillipelli.
From the late 90s to the 2000s, Coleman sang at the late Dan Lynch Blues Bar. With her husband David Mandelbaum, she founded the female blues group Sweet Potato, as lead singer. She has appeared in New Yiddish Rep’s productions of “Death Of A Salesman”, “Awake and Sing” by Clifford odetts and “Rhinoceros” by Eugene Ionesco. His directing credits include “Yosl Rokover Speaks to Gd”, “Savage in Limbo”, “The Vagina Monologues” and numerous cabaret acts. She is a voice, drama and writing teacher.
Director David Mandelbaum has produced, performed and directed in experimental theater in New York for over 35 years, working at La MaMa, Theater For The New City, The Common Basis Theater and others. In 2007, he and Amy coleman founded the New Yiddish Rep and created his first show, Mandelbaum’s adaptation of the Holocaust classic by Zvi Kolitz, “Yosl Rakover Speaks To Gd”, directed by Coleman. This was soon followed by “The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum” and “The Big Bupkis: The Complete Gentile’s Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville”. Under Mandelbaum’s direction, New Yiddish Rep has presented original films, concerts, art performances and art exhibitions, and has curated and developed a series of significant adaptations of modern classics in Yiddish translation. He directed his Off-Broadway production of “Awake and Sing”, appeared in his “Waiting for Godot”, “Awake and Sing”, “God of Vengeance” and “The Whore from Ohio”, and produced “Rhicoceros” and his famous production of “Death of a Salesman”.
A development workshop production of “Crazy Meshuge Hurricane Earthquake” was presented by New Yiddish Rep in 2019.