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New Yiddish Rep presents two one-act plays by the fascinating English-born polyglot Wolf Mankowitz -- both of which were also made into noteworthy British films -- “The Irish Hebrew Lesson,” and the world premiere in Yiddish of “The Bespoke Overcoat.” A theatrical feast in three languages, New Yiddish Rep’s Mankowitz double bill, entitled “2 by Wolf,” runs from June 11 to July 2 at the cell, 338 West 23rd Street. Moshe Yassur, the internationally acclaimed director of New Yiddish Rep’s groundbreaking “Waiting for Godot” in Yiddish, will direct.
“2 by Wolf” reintroduces us to one of the most intriguing Jewish writers of the 20th century, who, as a streetwise East End-born, Cambridge-educated Renaissance man, was both a product of the “angry young men” generation of post-war England, as well as a populist, deeply affirmative storyteller who pushed Jewish themes in much of his work.
The first play, “The Irish Hebrew Lesson” is perhaps the only tri-lingual play of its kind written in English, Irish and Yiddish. It will be performed as written with no supertitles. First produced in 1972 as a film directed by Mankowitz starring Milo O’Shea, it is the story of three men in Cork in the early ‘20s who, under surprising circumstances, discover a deep affinity between their Jewish and Irish cultural and religious backgrounds. Its world premiere as a play was in 1978 in London.
The second, “The Bespoke Overcoat,” is based on the short story by Gogol, and was Mankowitz’s breakthrough -- first as a play in 1953 and then a movie in 1956, both starring the highly regarded David Kossoff. Transposing from Russia to the East End of London the story of a lowly clerk who covets an overcoat even after he dies of cold, the film won the Oscar in 1957 for Best Short Subject. This is the play’s first-known production in Yiddish, in a new translation by Shane Baker. English supertitles will be supplied.
Prodigious playwright, producer, scholar, poet, journalist, screenwriter, TV panelist and authority on Wedgwood china, Mankowitz (1924 to 1998) lived out his days in Cork Ireland, and for some reason never attained the same level of respect in America that he achieved in England and Ireland.
The novelist Anthony Burgess referred to him as “a sort of East End [James] Joyce.” His best-known book, “A Kid for Two Farthings” (1953), inspired by his East London childhood, was made into a film directed by Carol Reed. He was also a screenwriter on the two earliest James Bond films (“Dr. No” – uncredited, and “Casino Royale.”
A veteran of both the Yiddish and modern theatre, Moshe Yassur, who was born in Yassy Romania (the cradle of the Yiddish theatre), worked for several years with Jean-Marie Serreau, at the Théatre de Babylone in Paris, taking part, often as assistant director, in several first productions of Beckett and Ionesco. In New York he was a protégé of Woody King Jr., directing at the New Federal Theatre.