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A Soulless 'Brothel' Just Misses a Beat

February 02, 2001|JANA J. MONJI

Madeline and Charles Leavitt's musical "The Bride and the Brothel" at the Gascon Center Theatre is an adaptation of Sholem Asch's "God of Vengeance" (translation by Joachim Neugroschel), but this Voices Carry Inc. production is plagued by Hanna Levy's forgettable lyrics and music, and a cheery outlook that comes across as remarkably shallow.

According to the program notes, New York City police closed down the first English-language production of this Yiddish play in 1923, and the state of New York banned the play from Broadway because of the lesbian love scenes and the treatment of the Torah.

Another musical, "Backstreet," at the Santa Monica Playhouse in 1998, was also based on "God of Vengeance," but its creators decided against portraying a lesbian love affair.

"The Bride and the Brothel," like "Backstreet," attempts to paint a rosy picture of prostitution, as if "Cabaret" and "Sweet Charity" hadn't given us darker, more poignant portrayals. Emotional depth is lacking.

Yankl (Adam Gregor) operates a brothel in his basement. His wife (JoAnne Bailey) is a former prostitute. Their decent and pure (two overused words in the play) daughter, Rivkele (Jamie Farmer Ebersole), has no friends, because respectable families prefer to keep their daughters away from houses of ill repute. Her only friend is one of her father's working girls, Manke (Courtney Delancey).

Under the direction of Madeline Leavitt, the play lacks soul and the underlying feeling that justice has been done when Yankl feels God's wrath. Gregor blusters, but no dark edges color this bully. Bailey portrays a caring mother, yet the psychological link between her and her pimping husband isn't explored. Ebersole depends on her wide eyes, blankly blinking on her pale face, to portray innocence.

This production has no sweeping vision that pulls at our heartstrings, nor music that makes one want to dance or sing.

*

* "The Bride and the Brothel," Gascon Center Theatre, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m., except Feb. 18, 3 p.m. only. Ends March 4. $25. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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