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by Joel Shatzky
The script of Billy Yalowitz’s multi-media paean to Woody Guthrie and the Jewish-American left, “East Towards Home,” contains a great deal of nostalgia for this reviewer. Using four characters — Woody Guthrie; Sylvie, the politically committed dancer, roughly modeled after Woody’s second wife; Marjorie (nee Greenblatt), the Teller, who does much of the narration; and a Youth who is not only in love with social protest but a fervent New York sports fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Knicks — the play is a skillful and beautifully written performance piece. It includes Guthrie’s songs “Pastures of Plenty” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You,” and visual projections to illustrate the narrative. It also connects the importance of the arts — dance, song, poetry — to social struggle. Through the many anecdotes that enrich the texture of the show, Yalowitz displays the depth and breadth of the world of social protest that originated in Europe over one hundred years ago and flourished in the “Coops” in the Bronx and throughout the Hudson Valley area, which was dotted with left-wing summer camps.
Of particular interest are the many connections Yalowitz’s script draws between Jewish culture and social justice. One example is his playful use of Yiddish in the bilingual recitation of the principles of the Goldens Bridge Cooperative Colony. Filled with songs and stories that are evocative of the Depression and then move forward into the anti-war 1960s and the Black Power 1970s, “East Toward Home” runs at the Theater for the New City in New York January 16 to February 2. Jewish Currents editor Lawrence Bush will be leading a discussion with the audience and members of the cast on January 18th after the Saturday matinee.
Billy Yalowitz is an associate professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, where he founded and co-directs the Community Arts Practices Program. His recent works include “Six Actors in Search of a Plot,” co-written with Palestinian playwright Mohammad Zaher, which was performed in Hebrew and Arabic throughout Israel and off-Broadway at the Culture Project in New York City. He was nominated for a Barrymore Award for his movement-theater work in 1996, and was named “Best Unclassifiable Theater Artist” by Philadelphia’s City Paper in 1997 and Best Choreographer by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1999.
Joel Shatzky is a playwright and educator who writes for our magazine about education and literature.