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Appealing Adaptation of Singer 'Stories'


Isaac Bashevis Singer once resisted writing for young people--it was not something that "serious" authors did. Luckily, the Nobel Prize-winning author was to change his mind.

"Children are the best readers of genuine literature," he wrote in the prologue to his "Stories for Children," marvelous tales steeped in Jewish religion and the folklore of his native Poland, but accessible to children of all backgrounds.

A Renegade Theatre Ensemble is celebrating this master storyteller in an unpretentious staging of four of Singer's "Stories" at the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys.

Despite a forced finale, this family show--for adults as well as children--is highlighted by hilarity, a rare sweetness, and language that lives.

Two of the four plays alone are worth the price of admission. "The Day I Got Lost" is an inventive, riotous romp about the misadventures of absent-minded Professor Schlemiel. Director Joe Megel, who adapted all the stories, has divided the hapless Professor into two schlemiels (Marc Silver and Philip Sokoloff) for double the fun.


The other standout, "Menashe and Rachel," is a tender, telling story of two blind orphans (James Duane Polk and Gayle Nadler) who love each other and see further and deeper than most adults. Larry Eisenberg directs with sensitive simplicity.

The show's momentum builds slowly during the first play, "Tashlik," about a young Hasidic youth (Brent Gettelfinger) determined to win the affections of the eccentric, bookish Feigele (Nadler). Directed by Megel, references to Spinoza and Strindberg go over young heads, but the romance is easily understood.

The closing play, "Joseph and Koza," staged by Eisenberg, is too clever for its own good. Gettelfinger and Julia Glander, in the title roles, make an especially attractive pair, but the play works overtime for laughs by turning Singer's mystical, magical tale into burlesque, misfiring with Polk's ultra-campy witch, Zla.

Still, Megel and Eisenberg make the most of the appealing ensemble on the small stage. Narrators integrate smoothly into the action and gender-crossing is unobtrusive. The modest forest setting is designed by Bill Wilday, who also did the lighting.

* "Isaac Bashevis Singer's Stories for Children," West End Playhouse, 7446 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays, noon and 3 p.m. through April 25. The April 11 noon performance will be signed for the hearing-impaired. $12 (under age 12, $7); (818) 904-0444. *

Holiday Hip-Hop: Not the rap kind, the bunny kind. Rhino Records' audio recording from last year, "Easter Egg Mornin', " features mellow crooner Bobby Goldsboro ("Honey," "Watching Scotty Grow") in his more recent persona as an imaginative children's storyteller-singer. Goldsboro, who started writing children's stories in the '80s, concocted this bouncy story about how the Easter Bunny ruffles some feathers before he learns the rewards of cooperation and mutual respect.

Goldsboro, who gives voice to the bunny, also produced, composed and arranged the upbeat music. The cassette comes with a read-along storybook and ties in with an animated TV special airing over the holiday on the Disney Channel. $6.98. Widely available. *

Also on the Holiday Menu: "Peter Cottontail, How He Got His Hop!," an easygoing home video from veteran puppeteer Jim Gamble on the Bogner Entertainment label. With the preschooler-friendly, Barney-style simplicity that bemuses adults, Peter Cottontail tries to find his talent so he can be part of the Meadowlands Spring Talent Show.

Along the way, he meets a skateboarding bunny, a weight-lifting eagle and other puppet pals. $14.95. (818) 784-3781.

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