Not necessarily bent on giving William Shakespeare a hard time in the afterlife, Romeo And Juliet In Yiddish is nevertheless a satirical challenge to the entrenched, centuries long edict that the iconic bard speaks to the world in a universal tongue – updated to tongue in cheek, bawdy body language here as well – transcending time and cultures.
And ironically, what plays out in the film is a David and Goliath sort of comical belligerence, subjecting Shakespearean drama to translation into a dialect on a par with the time-worn obscurity of Old English. Namely Yiddish, referenced in the movie as ‘the most irrelevant language in the world – and spoken only by those over the age of ninety.’
Eve Annenberg, the director, screenwriter and star of Romeo And Juliet In Yiddish, is Ava, is a lonely, exasperated ER nurse, grad school student and lapsed Jew. Not to mention a covert junkie hooked on morphine that she stashes at home, via illegal takeout from the hospital where she works, And she’s facing a dilemma, you might say, of Shakespearean proportions. Not the least of which is straying out of her comfort zone mulling essays about geriatric lingerie, and her mournful confession that ‘Yiddish hates me on a deep, personal level.’
Under threat of losing a college scholarship unless she agrees to translate and mount a production of the classic play in question, Ava reluctantly recruits a rather shady gang of suspect homeless, self-described ‘spiritually bankrupt’ weed smuggling Hasidic stoner youth to assist. Which spontaneously morphs into a Brighton Beach retro-beatdown with those curly sideburns flying, and peculiar dramatic flourishes around fire escape soliloquies, boardwalk hot dog stands, and the local El. While one Kabbalah kook among them chronically worries about the universe instead.
A kind of Holy Rollers, the comic version, Romeo And Juliet In Yiddish holds interest primarily for its radically imaginative settings, and not entirely kosher subversive notions. But momentum wanes as the mayhem ensues, where culture clashes with a bit more bite – there’s an ensuing not quite emphatic enough conflict between two warring Orthodox sects, we’re told – would have deepened the daffy dramatic proceedings.
Vilna City Films/Oscar Productions