The Transformative Yiddish Theater
Giving Our Past A Future
Yiddish Theater for the next generation

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New Yiddish Rep
is proud to have been awarded
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"for outstanding community-building through creative, multi-faceted cultural programs."
Jewish Standard Review

Miriam Rinn • TheaterPublished: 27 November 2009

Shane Bertman Baker, a gentile, performs in Yiddish.

Maybe there’s something to all this talk about a resurgence of Yiddish. It seems that here are now two Yiddish theater companies in New York. A scrappy new outfit, the New Yiddish Rep, joins the National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene in bringing Yiddishentertainment to the masses. And while there were hardly masses at 45 E. 33rd St. for The Big Bupkis,” the New Yiddish Rep’s newest production, there was a surprisingamount of entertainment.

The star of “The Big Bupkis,” Shane Bertram Baker, may be the new incarnation of Yiddish theater — he’s relatively young, not Jewish, and learned his Yiddish as an adult. A child magician and a participant in the current burlesque revival (what, you didn’t know burlesque was reviving?) Baker is perfectly comfortable on stage and has great comic timing. His looks and his deadpan delivery remind one of Tommy Smothers. Baker tells the audience with droll sincerity that while he was an acolyte at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Kansas City, “I dreamed about Yiddish vaudeville.” He dates his fascination to the time he saw the Marx Brothers’ “Animal Crackers,” and heard Groucho’s use of the word schnorrer. How was it that neither his Midwestern father nor the priest at St. Andrews had ever heard the term? Imagine his surprise when he arrived in New York City to discover that Yiddishvaudeville was almost completely controlled by the Jews!

The show is loosely constructed like an old variety program. There are magic tricks, dramatic recitations, hypnotism, musical numbers, and bits that involve the audience. Musical director Steve Sterner on piano and Matt Temkin on drums do more than playheir instruments, but the show depends on Baker’s comic abilities. And he delivers. The show is often laugh-out-loud funny. A sleazily attractive set designed by George Xenos helps establish the tone, which is on the right side of camp. Baker combines contemporary irony with a clear affection for the tradition — if one can use such an august term — of Yiddish theater.n addition to being an actor, magician, and puppeteer, Baker is the executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture, an organization that’s been around forever. Both he and director Allan Lewis Rickman have performed with the Folksbiene, as has Steve Sterner, and there’s some gossip that the two companies are direct and snippy competitors. That’s of little concern to the spectators. More important is that the peoplenvolved are all veterans of both Yiddish and off-Broadway theater and they bring a lot of talent to the stage.

New York Times Feature on Shane Baker
A Gentile Who Lives For Yiddish

Backstage Review Review