Yiddish theater takes on American capitalism
‘Welcome to America’ looks at the corrosive effects of American capitalism on a traditional Jewish immigrant family.
Since 2005, the New Worlds Theatre Project has been presenting classic Yiddish drama in English translation. This season they’re presenting a new English translation of H. Leivick’s 1921 play “Shmates,” here called “Welcome to America,” a naturalistic drama about the corrosive effects of American capitalism on a traditional Jewish immigrant family.
In the notes to the play, director Stephen Fried charts its artistic lineage from Leivick’s original script to the work of Clifford Odets and later to Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” With this production it’s a fair connection to make. Artistic Director Ellen Perecman’s translation and adaptation highlights the painful shuffle of traditional hierarchies that inevitably follow the entry into American style capitalism.
In order to keep the pacing tight, Perecman has eliminated and combined characters, excised dialogue and chopped off one whole act of the play. The result makes for compelling theater, but also downplays an important theme of the play, namely, how to maintain a traditional Jewish family, and identity, in a new country whose materialistic values are antithetical to spiritual ones.