Wednesday, January 25, 2012

REVIEW: Asolo Rep gets risqué with ’Yentl’

The Asolo Repertory Theatre pushes the envelope with its highly sexualized staging of “Yentl.”

Superb acting throughout carries the play. It’s frequently steamy on stage as the actors successfully sell the many, intricate modes of young lust. The welcome comedic elements are delivered with charming aplomb.

A smart, fresh score by original “I Kissed a Girl” singer/songwriter Jill Sobule functions as wonderfully innovative Greek chorus.

The songs are strongly performed by a band of mostly Asolo Conservatory students. While the sonics lean toward Old World folk, the lyrics give the play a winning, contemporary edge.

But there are times when director Gordon Greenberg tries too hard to make the show hip.

For starters, there’s full-frontal male nudity sans complete disclaimer.

(Signs outside the entrance and all the Asolo Rep website warn about is “some mature themes and brief nudity.")

Moreover, considering the countless ways such a swimming scene could have been handled, the staging can only be described as gratuitous.

At most, a few bare bottoms would’ve sufficed.

(Incidentally, the Asolo Rep’s latest has production little to do with the Barbra Streisand movie musical of the same name except for the major plot points.)

The play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis, based on Singer’s short story “Yentl The Yeshiva Boy,” begins with a young Jewish woman seeking to enjoy the same education as her male peers in 19th-century Eastern Europe.

After her tutoring father dies, teenage girl Yentl (Hillary Clemens) dresses in his clothes and transforms herself into boy Anshel so she can continue studying Judaism.

Older student Avigdor (Andrew Carter) defends the effeminate Anshel and the two become best friends.

Yentl falls in love with Avigdor while maintaining her masquerade, and the idea of his sexuality comes into question as they exchange romantic glances.

The story takes its strangest turn when Yentl learns that Avigdor was rejected by bride-to-be Hadass (Gisela Chipe) and then marries her to bring the three into a love triangle.

Yentl shares the marriage bed and takes Hadass’ virginity (a sheet is held up and crass comment made).
Meanwhile, Avigdor marries pushy shopkeeper Pesha (Summer Dawn Wallace).

Clemens, who’s also great as May Daniels in Asolo Rep’s “Once in a Lifetime,” shines as the character who has “the soul of a man in the body of a woman.” 

The plays ends with many questions regarding the future of the main characters, except for the nonconformist Yentl.

—SCOTT BRAUN/PUBLICITY PHOTO of Hillary Clemens and Andrew Carter

Details: Playing through April 6, Asolo Repertory’s Mertz Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $27-$71. Information: 941-351-8000 or

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