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Information on Yehuda Hyman's The Mad Dancers

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by Yehuda Hyman
Check below for more information
on the production of this play.

The Mad Dancers, a recipient of a Kennedy Center award, originally premiered in San Diego in Spring 2001. It was re-staged in Washington DC in May 2003. Below are reviews and information from both productions (and other productions also).

The Mad Dancers
A Mystical Comedy
with Ecstatic Dance
April 29 - June 1, 2003
The Washington DC JCC's Theater J(

By Yehuda Hyman
Directed by Nick Olcott and Liz Lerman
Winner of the 1999 Kennedy Center
Fund for New American Plays Award
Featuring Fred Beam, Alek Friedman, Bill Hamlin, Naomi Jacobson, Nehal Joshi, Sarah Ridberg, and Jesse Terrill.

The great Rabbi Nachman of Breslov has one more story he must tell before he dies. But who will take the place of the Rebbe when he is gone? The successor must meet many requirements, but above all, "He should be a wonderful dancer!" So why not frustrated IBM word- processor, Elliot Green? Old World wisdom meets New World style in this buoyant Hasidic tale pulsing with dance and an unrestrained love of life.

MacArthur Fellowship winner Liz Lerman (Founder and Artistic Director, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange) and Helen Hayes Award-winning director Nick Olcott will draw on Jewish traditions from Eastern Europe, Yemen, India, Spain and Ethiopia to bring this culture-rich comedy to life.

Have you ever wondered how a set get's created? Lewis Folden has created an amazing webpage that shows the creative process in the creation of the sets and props. It is simply amazing.

Click here to be redirected to the Set Design page by Lewis Folden
Rehearsal photos by Lewis Folden
More Rehearsal and set photos by Lewis Folden
The creation of the set - painter's elevations
Scenic model of the set
Kabbalistic themes for the set

Sunday, May 4, 2003


From the Playwright, Yehuda Hyman:
My father rarely smiled. He never danced. Except once. When I was 10, I was picked to be in the Hebrew School talent show. I wanted to dance. My father showed me a dance that the CHassids did in his native Poland. The memory of him - thi stortured, silent man who walked around carrying the death of his entire family in his heart, cupping right hand to his ear, left hand drawing crazy 8's in space, feet gliding in rhythm, smiling - I think it's the memory that drove me to write this play. Where did that dance come from?

In 1992, The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity invited me to Israel to participate in a Jewish artists symposium. Up to that point, my entire frame of reference was Ashkenic (Eastern-European). Those three weeks in Jerusalem blew my mind. I became a cultural tourist in my own culture. I was exposed to he lush, erotic poetry of the 12th Century Sephardim, hypnotized by Moroccan chants, levitated on the wings of Yemenite hymns and Persian love songs, Ethiopian shoulder shaking dances. I wanted to find a way to bring even a small part of this infinite richness to the stage.
After the Jerusalem symposium ended, I journeyed to Tsfat, the tiny Northern town in the hills of Galilee. Tsfat became the center of Jewish mysticism after a large number of Kabbalists settled there following the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The howling wind still carries their voices. It is simultaneously alluring and scary. Arriving alone, late at night, I checked into the Rimon Hotel (Hotel Pomegranate) and with great (and unexplained) fanfare, was assigned Room Number 7; a cavernous room with a vaulted ceiling and no windows. Exhausted and unable to sleep, that insistent wind screaming outside, I began to envision the spirit of an ancient Rabbi who smiled at me through the mirrors of the armoire, inviting me to journey with him into seven chambers.
Returning to San Francisco, I decided that those seven chambers could contain seven Chassidic tales. I asked Rabbi David Meyer of Congregation Sherith Israel if he could suggest some stories. He immediately replied, "Rabbi Nachman's Seven Beggars." I had never heard of Rabbi Nachman or his beggars. I thought, "how easy, how cute - seven beggars, seven chambers." Had I known then that I was about to embark on over ten years of research and writing, I never would have left the pier.

THE MAD DANCERS took me all over the globe - literally. I traveled to India, praying and fasting with the Jewish communities of Cochin and Bombay. I flew with 200 Breslover Chassidim on Ukranian Airlines (me, the only one not in Black) to Uman, Ukraine where we danced and sang at the gravesite of Rebbe Nahman. I spent a week with Sara Levi of Rhodes, a Sephardic woman, a virtual stranger, who took me in and nursed me back to health after I become violently ill while visiting her in Mt. Shasta. In Portland, Oregon, I met Solomon Ezra, an Ethiopian Jew who showed me the torture scars on his feet while recounting the miracle of "Operation Solomon" == the airlift out of Ethiopia to Israel. I spent post-midnight hours at a Yemenite disco in deepest Brooklyn trying to pick up the magical, elusive steps of Yemenite dances and not look like a total nitwit.

Now after several workshops and a first production of the play in San Diego (under the direction of Todd Salovey) followed by a rewrite , the journey of The Mad Dancers leads to Theater J. In this time of great darkness and confusion, it is my ardent wish that The Mad Dancers and specifically the wisdom of Rabbi Nachman bring some joy to its audience. Is it chutzpadick to think that a play can do such a thing? Probably. But here is Rabbi Nachman, in his own words from the year 1810, giving his introduction to the tale of "The Seven Beggars": "Since you are so depressed, what do you know from being happy? I will tell you how people once rejoiced."

Coming soon:
More segments of the program statements
by the directors and actors, as well as the glossary of words.
Please, see below for details.

THE WASHINGTON DC Production of The Mad Dancers,
May 2003

'Mad Dancers': Spiritual Journey With a Light Step
By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2003; Page C01

Elliott Green is a sad, shriveled figure, an IBM secretary enslaved to his computer and his diet-soda-slurping boss. His days are routinized to the minute, his appearance tightly under control -- Big Blue dress code followed to the letter, ID card on a chain around his neck.

Nebbishy, repressed Elliott. Little does he know that an 18th-century Jewish mystic has chosen him to be the leader of his people.

Time, culture and centuries of religious philosophy are compressed, massaged and remolded in Yehuda Hyman's "The Mad Dancers," which opened Sunday at Theater J. Don't know much about cabala, Hasidism and the 10 emanations of God? You'll get a healthy dose by the end of this funny, illuminating and resonant play. The material may be Jewish esoterica, but it is handled with a light touch and the application is universal. Hyman's time-bending script is a modern-day fairy tale, and as in a skillfully told children's story, there are mysterious strangers, evildoers, plot twists, a surprise ending -- and wisdom to take out the door with you.

The play is not without its flaws, however; there's a thicket of characters and story lines to get through in the first act, and the audience needs more help than it gets in sorting out the essential details. This production owes much of its success to an exceptional cast, especially Alek Friedman as the neurotic, vulnerable and immensely likable Elliott, and Naomi Jacobson in the virtuoso role of the ancient Ukrainian rebbe, whose magical shape-shifting powers require her not only to sport a good deal of facial hair but also to inhabit a half-dozen characters and accents.

Hyman based his play on "The Seven Beggars," an unfinished tale by the early Hasidic master Rebbe Nachman, who delivered enlightenment through storytelling. His teachings centered on the search for joy, achieved by deemphasizing worldly matters for a life of peace, simplicity and union with God. When we first meet the rebbe, he is about to die without sons to carry on his work, making his followers anxious. Who will guide them out of their suffering? As always, he answers with a story, this one about the search for a perfect prince who will enter the garden (metaphor alert) and heal the princess (read: the feminine facet of the divine).

The rebbe is not only telling the story -- he's living it, searching for his own spiritual heir. With no one fitting the prince's description at hand -- he has to possess some very special qualities, most important of which is dance ability -- the rebbe looks two centuries into the future and aha! There he is. Elliott. Tethered to his desk in modern-day San Francisco, his only joy his daily coffee break shared with the male movie stars profiled in the pages of the Chronicle.

But when Elliott starts to talk about a recurring dream, which unfolds in a wordless dance of yearning and sweet bliss, we see his true nature and why the rebbe, who has tumbled into the 21st century with a group of his followers, has such faith in him. Elliot, however, wants nothing of the journey he's pushed into. Why should he -- he's accosted by a half-dozen bizarre beggars with cryptic messages, then whisked around the Jewish diaspora on the coattails of that insistent, frail-looking little rebbe. What's worse, he's shadowed by an evil old gentleman (played with oily perfection by Bill Hamlin), who knows that a sure way to a Jewish boy's soul is through a juicy baked chicken, and whose menacing grin proves disastrously irresistible.

Besides, Elliott has no fondness for his heritage. As a gay man, he has a lifestyle at odds with the dogma, a lesson learned at his bitterly remembered bar mitzvah. But given that the theme here is the relevance of faith in the modern age, Elliott the outcast makes the perfect catch to reel back in.

Like Jacobson's rebbe, Friedman's Elliott seems fragile at first, as if he's been wasted away by his nerves, and yet he has an amazingly rubbery body that can hit the stage like a load of lumber or yank into the air with astonishing force. He is wonderfully, messily human, easily diverted by a great cup of joe, lacking self-confidence, complacent in his spiritual misery -- and terrific company on this wild, often unruly journey.

Hyman, who trained as a dancer, made physicality and choreography as much a part of this play as the dialogue. Co-directors Nick Olcott and Liz Lerman (better known for her locally based dance company, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange) work well within the confines of Theater J's serving-platter of a stage, and to their credit, with all the dancing and motion and knockout punches to the floor that occur, the space doesn't feel too small.

"The Mad Dancers" marks Lerman's directorial debut, and with it the recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant demonstrates just how versatile her brand of choreography is. For decades Lerman has incorporated spoken text into her dancing, which relies heavily on gesture and movements that have narrative meaning. Her work here is a logical progression. The cast members' movements are as clear as words: the grasping for what is out of reach, the fluttering fingers that suggest something impermanent is spilling from them. Actors and dancers alike (the cast includes both) handle the physical challenges with remarkably fluid ease. Fred Michael Beam, of the deaf male dance company the Wild Zappers, has a featured dual role, to which he brings an unforgettable emotional charge.

Adding dance to drama may feel very new, and perhaps even frivolous, to some. But to Hyman, Lerman, Olcott and this excellent cast, it is perfectly, marvelously natural.

The Mad Dancers by Yehuda Hyman. Directed by Liz Lerman and Nick Olcott. Set, Lewis Folden; costumes, Rhonda Key; lighting, Adam Magazine; composer, Jesse Terrill. With Laurel Dugan, Nehal Joshi, Deborah Karp, Cassie Meador, Quincy Northrup, Sara Ridberg, Jesse Terrill and Nicole Williams. Through June 1 at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW. Call 202-777-3229 or visit
(c) 2003 The Washington Post Company

The Many Steps to 'Dancers'
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 13, 2003; Page C05

Putting on playwright Yehuda Hyman's mystical, intricate, comical "The Mad Dancers" at Theater J (through June 1) has been a multidisciplinary experiment.

Based on the early-19th-century parables of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, it combines dance and narrative so closely that choreographer Liz Lerman of the Dance Exchange and peripatetic director Nick Olcott had equal roles in the staging.

"It was very organic. We were in each other's business all the time," recalled Olcott. "My concern was always the narrative," he explained, while Lerman's was "getting the correct emotional impact from the stage picture" as a whole.

"I said, 'Okay, all the dancers listen to Nick, all the actors listen to me,' " said Lerman. "We started at opposite ends . . . but we agreed aesthetically all the time."

"The Mad Dancers" traces the spiritual awakening of the modern-day Elliott, an emotionally repressed gay software programmer, long estranged from his Jewish faith. Playwright Hyman, 47, who started in theater at 17 in a Broadway chorus, got the idea more than a decade ago while choreographing a play. He was creatively stymied. A klezmer clarinetist told him to close his eyes, listen to the music and just "dance -- in front of 60 people."

"Something happened," he recalled from his Los Angeles home. "It touched some part of me that had been kind of covered up for years and years and years. . . . That was the beginning for me. I started researching, studying, finding my way and reconnecting." He traveled, studying various traditions of the Jewish diaspora and Hasidic mysticism.

When Hyman was fired from a temp job at IBM in San Francisco, Elliott the spiritually repressed computer geek was born. Fifteen drafts and 70 regional theater rejections later, Hyman won a grant from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays. "Dancers" was first staged in San Diego and is now in much revised form at Theater J.

Naomi Jacobson plays the Rebbe, a mystical spiritual leader who reaches across centuries to anoint his successor -- Elliott. The Rebbe morphs through characters, genders and six accents, plus a stutter. While Elliott's journey was to a spiritual awakening, "I felt like the journey for me was to believe that I could do the role," Jacobson said.

Olcott said casting her in a largely male role was "a brilliant way to unite what the play is about with the cast that's onstage . . . a recapturing of Jewish mystical thought to include all people."

For New York-based Alek Friedman, a 28-year-old who's been making a living as a video editor, sign language interpreter and occasional actor, the role of Elliott is a career marker.

One audience member told Friedman after a performance, "You know, I'm not sure what I just saw, but I loved it and I'm going to see it again." Remarked the actor, "You certainly don't look at a painting just once to understand it, so why a play?"

'Dancers' moves to mystical beat
By Jayne M. Blanchard
May 10, 2003

That a nebbish like Elliott Green could turn out not only to be a prince but a leader is truly a 21st century miracle. Elliott (Alek Friedman, a young Ray Bolger with the same wistfulness and rubbery grace) is a repressed typist at IBM in San Francisco. He exists for his coffee breaks (in a later scene, a good cup of joe turns out to be his Waterloo) and has far too much of his identity tied up in the laminated ID card he wears around his neck, yet Elliott insists on repeating the mantra "I like my job. I like my life" in the hopes that it will prove true.
Stranger things than the redemption of an office dweeb occur in Yehuda Hyman's enchanting, mind- and gender-bending dance-play, "The Mad Dancers," which marks the first collaboration between Theatre J and local choreographer Liz Lerman.
The play, co-directed by Miss Lerman and Nick Olcott, is a strange brew of heady storytelling and sinuous dancing that touches on ideas about faith, believing in the absurd, and how joy and lighthearted humor are right up there with cleanliness and godliness.
In order to enjoy "The Mad Dancers" you don't have to necessarily be well-versed on the kabala, the body of Jewish teachings concerned with divine mystical experiences, or acquainted with Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the revered 17th century Hasid ("pious person") leader who believed enlightenment came from storytelling and laughter - but it helps. Those who don't know the Sefiroth (the 10 Emanations of God) from borscht, might be as lost as poor Elliott in the first act, which is dense with characters from both the past and present, in addition to an onslaught of Jewish symbolism. Luckily, the program contains a thorough glossary and a couple of explanatory essays and it is wise to get a little reading in before the play begins. Even with these "cheat sheets" to lean on, "The Mad Dancers" throws an awful lot of ideology and metaphoric dialogue at you in the first hour. It's when the playwright relaxes in the second half that the play finds its hypnotic, circular rhythm.
The cast of actors and dancers pull off the astonishing feat of handling the physical demands of the play - their bird-wing gestures often convey more than words ever could - plus its intellectual nuances as well.
Mr. Hyman spent 10 years researching Rabbi Nachman's unfinished tale "The Seven Beggars" and the scholarship shows. Wanting to be faithful to the work is admirable, but not when it gets in the way of a good yarn.
The feathery touch of Mr. Olcott, combined with Miss Lerman's choregraphy (which emphasizes the narrative power of certain repetitive gestures and movements) keeps "The Mad Dancers" from getting mired in pedantry.
It's a good thing too, since the play contains such a delectable tale, ironically staged on a set that looks like a golden oval serving platter. "The Mad Dancers" is dominated by the diminutive rebbe (Naomi Jacobson, unrecognizable and protean in a variety of wigs, facial hair sproutings, and costumes), who wishes not only to complete his final tale before dying, but to find the next leader of his people.
His devoted followers are nervous. How are they going to survive without the rebbe? Who will lead them? As usual, the rebbe answers with a story, but this time he is not only the teller, but the searcher.
The rebbe fast-forwards into the future a few centuries and alights on Elliot. In a series of fast, funny and touching scenes, the rebbe shape-shifts into numerous characters who visit Elliott at his desk and literally joy-buzzes him with enlightenment. They all utter the same words: "You should be exactly as I am." What does this mean? Elliott is snapped out of his complacency in his yearning to find out, a journey that takes him way beyond the IBM building to the cryptic Hotel Pomegranate (where you can check out any time you like, just so long as you don't answer the door), through several thousand years of Jewish history, and into the hollows of his own soul.
The frail-seeming, surprisingly resilient rebbe keeps popping up to offer misty snippets of wisdom, as does a dapper old gentleman (Bill Hamlin, coming off like an oily vaudeville showman) who appears to be some sort of evil death figure.
The rebbe is determined to have his tale told, and as the heaviness of a long life accretes around him the rebbe draws upon the weapons that have served him so well: joy and lightness. His philosophy is that when the going gets tough, the tough get kvelling.
Elliott, the unlikely prince, is led back to his faith and a purpose born out of a life-altering dream. The rebbe and Elliott are similar in a way, two people who look as if they could be blown sideways any minute, but who show great spiritual reserves, empathy and yearning.
These are fine qualities for every human to possess, whether they are rebbe or regular guy. In this way, "The Mad Dancers" shows that you don't have to be a prima ballerina to participate in the sweet dance of life.

WHAT: "The Mad Dancers" by Yehuda Hyman
WHERE: Theater J, 1529 Q St. NW
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 1. TICKETS: $21 to $34

Part whimsy, part wonder 'Mad Dancers' kabbalistic journey premieres at Theater J
by Lisa Traiger
Special to WJW

Once finished with the six days of creation, it's said that God spends the rest of days making shidduchim -- matches. The match between Theater J and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange is just such a shidduch -- made in heaven.
The Mad Dancers, in its East Coast premiere at Theater J through June 1, could not have found a more perfect pairing than the sometimes edgy, forward-thinking artists/directors who staff Theater J and the longtime dancer/choreographer -- and MacArthur-certified genius -- with a penchant for exploring her Jewish roots in a deeply intellectual way.
Los Angeles-based playwright Yehuda Hyman's kabbalistic journey toward paradise has found its ideal visionaries in co-directors Nick Olcott and Liz Lerman. Blending dance, music and mystical Chasidic storytelling into a contemporary setting, The Mad Dancers follows inept Elliott Green -- wonderfully expressive New York actor Alek Friedman -- on his path toward enlightenment and self-knowledge.
This is Lerman at her best, and in working with Hyman's probing tale of tradition and change, she is clearly in her element. A word processor for IBM, Elliott's life hovers in a holding pattern. He relishes routine at Big Blue, eschewing the unusual. So when he starts hearing voices and seeing strange mystics on San Francisco's Market Street, he has no idea that he's in for the ride of his life.
A time-traveling, storytelling mystic from the 19th century, Reb Nachman of Breslov, seeks an heir for he has no sons. Elliott, the nondescript nebbish, is his choice. Withered and worried, rattled by what Elliott refers to as "sexual identity issues," he seems an odd choice, but rebbes with vision know a spiritual heir when they see one. And Rebbe Nachman wants one who can dance, no matter that this one sits at a desk typing all day.
The 19th-century Ukrainian rebbe, known for weaving allegorical parables that link God and man, emphasized spiritual practice over tedious talmudic study. In the Lerman/Olcott production, Naomi Jacobson, wearing a close-cut beard and earlocks, imbues the tubercular rabbi with a sense of spirituality and of humor that breathes vivacity and laughter into the hard lives of the black-coated Chasidim.
Jacobson transports and transfigures into a half-dozen characters with a multitude of accents and ethnicities in order to lead her charge to the holy paradise of kabbalistic legend.
Hyman, a former dancer and choreographer, found inspiration in Reb Nachman's only unfinished tale, The Seven Beggars, which recounts a meeting with seven personalities, each with a physical flaw, yet each with a spiritual link that can carry Elliott further on his quest. Yet, Elliott's journey is fraught with indecision and trauma.
The Faustian Mephistopheles-like Gentleman, played with impeccable officiousness by Bill Hamlin, in a perfectly trimmed white mustache, represents the yetzer harah, the evil inclination that entices believers off their path. The Gardener, lanky Fred Michael Beam, has an immensely touching scene trying to communicate with the taciturn Elliott. A deaf actor/dancer, Beam speaks, fittingly in this piece, through his gestures in American Sign Language, yet his voice isn't muted as he emits calls of distress during a physically distraught solo.
With this 10-member cast, Lerman has developed an evocative nonverbal language of gestures, some based on ASL, some developed from the choreography of Jewish traditional prayer, some from dances of the Chasidim and other Jewish groups, and some the highly personal movement of contemporary modern dance.
The ensemble features dancers from Lerman's apprentice program, along with actors who have seamlessly straddled the movement material in entirely naturalistic and comfortable ways.
As ineffable as the kabbalistic material is (director Olcott even provides a glossary for the uninitiated), ultimately The Mad Dancers' spiritual quest remains grounded in the here and now. Like yoga, with its mind-body-spirit connections, this mystical story too exhorts the people of the book to find a way to dance again, as did the Chasidic masters and their followers nearly two centuries ago in dreary, dirt-poor shtetls of Eastern Europe.
As retold for modern times, Hyman's The Mad Dancers, part whimsy, part wonder, emanates with a rich amalgamation of danced theater that's irresistibly beautiful and unapologetically expressive of the Jewish imagination.

Review by Trey Graham
May 10, 2003

The Mad Dancers Yehuda Hyman's play is the tale of an alienated San Francisco feygele who, with some mystical assistance from a long-dead rabbi, finds a way to reconcile an identity and a faith he long believed incompatible. Or it's a kind of religious parable in which said rabbi, facing the end of his own life, reaches through a century and more of time to steer the gayboy toward what might be a messianic destiny. Either way, despite its structural complexity and a healthy interest in the esoterics of Kabbalah, the show's not terribly challenging. But it is smart, stimulating theater--not least for the way the playwright's inspirations find echoes in the style and the subtleties of Theater J's lyrical production, staged with marvelous clarity by dance guru Liz Lerman and theater veteran Nick Olcott. The Mad Dancers is rooted, apparently, in the playwright's own discovery of self and shared heritage, and it's framed in a vocabulary of gesture and movement that manages to be funny and reverent and often moving, sometimes all at once. And the design team supports cast and directors with what might be the most eloquent, expressive combination of elements in any show this year.

Review from The Washington Blade
by Patrick Folliard
May 23, 2003

Creating 'Mad Dancers'
Yehuda Hyman reflects on his own life in creating a play about an emotionally distraught man who finds inner peace.
FOR GAY PLAYWRIGHT Yehuda Hyman, dance and Judaism have played major roles in his life's journey.

"The Mad Dancers," Hyman's resplendent, mystical play currently running at Theatre J, combines these elements and humor in telling the tale of a emotionally impotent gay man who hesitantly reconnects with his spiritual roots. In doing so, he opens himself to a big, black hat full of possibilities.

In "The Mad Dancers," the Rebbe (local favorite Naomi Jacobson), a dying rabbi from 19th century Poland, accompanied by a team of twirling Hassidim, is somehow transported to 21st century San Francisco in search of a successor. The Rebbe's only criterion is that this potential leader of the tribe be able to dance. And, of course, he also must be Jewish.

The Rebbe finds his man in Elliott (New York actor Alek Friedman), a gay secretary at IBM. Elliott is a Jew but not religious. Undaunted, the Rebbe morphs into different characters - male and female - all of whom try to coax Elliott away from his computer and his very routine, solitary world and into the Kabbalistic garden where he might reign as a messianic prince.

The play, artfully co-directed by gay Theatre J vet, Nick Olcott, and Liz Lerman (of the Dance Exchange in Takoma Park), may be a bit fanciful, but it's also very real and accessible.

Like Elliott in the play, Los Angeles-born Hyman was put off by religion in Hebrew school. Not long before his bar mitzvah, Hyman's rabbi explained to the class that it was an abomination to be gay. Hyman, a favorite of his show-tune loving teacher, knew that this proscription applied to him.

At that point, he said he unconsciously knew that being a religious Jew wasn't going to work for him. Although he went through with his bar mitzvah and, in the subsequent years, would find himself in a synagogue on every Rosh Hashanah, he still felt disconnected from Judaism.

ONCE A BOY SOPRANO, Hyman began his show biz career singing with the New York City Opera when it performed in Los Angeles. He also studied ballet.

At 16, he danced as a chorus boy in touring productions. By 18, Hyman was dancing on Broadway. Seven years later, he began to lose his hair and his chorus boy days were over.

Still, Hyman continued to dance, choreograph and write theater pieces. He was searching and open to experiences. While in Israel in 1992, he spent the night in a lonely hotel where he envisioned the spirit of a rabbi who invited him to journey with him into seven chambers. Back in the states, a friend suggested the apparition might have been Reb Nachman, a 19th century rabbi and author of "The Seven Beggars."

From there, Hyman began reconstructing the rabbi's unfinished tale, and slowly "The Mad Dancers" evolved. "Had I known that it would take me 10 years to write the play, I may have never started," Hyman said.

by Jennifer Shapira
Published on 05/15/2003

Time Warp
The Mad Dancers at DC Jewish Community Center

Elliott Green needs his morning coffee breaks. Ritualistic, ("Sip, bite, read...something about Madonna ") they're all he likes about his job as an admin assistant at IBM. Brenda, his tightly wound, micro-manager of a boss is after him for The Report.

Worlds away in 19th-century Poland, Reb Nachman, the dying great-grandson of Hasidic Judaism's founder the Baal Shem Tov, is desperate to find a successor. Among other qualities, his heir must be a "terrific dancer, " and the kingdom possesses no one worthy. And so, the rebbe expands his search by depositing himself into modern-day San Francisco. Sipping an espresso, Elliott's coffee break turns mystical -- and that's not the java talking.

So unfolds The Mad Dancers, Los Angeles-based Yehuda Hyman's extensively researched follow-up to real-life Rabbi Nachman's unfinished tale The Seven Beggars. Ten years in the making, Hyman's inspiration to pen the time-traveling comedy came during a stay at the Hotel Pomegranate in Israel's Galilee. Hyman's semi-autobiographical work -- he exists fundamentally in Elliott as a gay Jew who feels more than excluded -- The Mad Dancers charts one man's spiritual journey toward self-acceptance, though Elliott resists following these curious characters he meets, who occasionally attempt to derail him. Along the way to epiphany, Elliott is misplaced, displaced, lost, and finally, found.

The Theater J collaboration, co-directed by Nick Olcott and Liz Lerman, incorporates dance, music and sign language into this work, which celebrates Kabbalistic texts. Hassidic thought, traditionally, is very closed, "oppressive, sexist and homophobic, " says Olcott, pinpointing the impetus of Elliott's journey. "But, in fact, I think the original writings are extremely beautiful and open to everyone. "

Hyman, trained as a dancer and choreographer, danced for Lerman but deferred the steps to her ("There are a couple of my moves in there, " Hyman exclaims. "She's just magical! "). The Mad Dancers had its premiere in San Diego two years ago, with Hyman playing Elliott. And though he as a soft spot for the first production, of the Theater J collaboration, Hyman says, "I felt it had finally arrived. "

by The Georgetowner

In the hallways of the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, and in the aisles of the theater within, the audience members, many of whom are Jewish, and a number of whom are not, are buzzing in ways you don't often see or hear.
The folks are puzzled, but they're also talking-a lot. Something about "The Mad Dancers," a new play at Theater J, has them engaged, if a little bewildered. Hadism, the Kaballah, a dancing rabbi played by a woman, mysticism and esoteric religious practices, a powerful mix of drama and dance have all combine to work a kind of hypnotic magic on the audience.
Here's a case of mixing and matching two forms of performance art-dance and drama-with the result that's affecting, without affectation. If the information in the play has degrees of clarity depending on how informed you are, and if the methods and styles on stage are sometimes unsettling, there's something powerful and direct going on that transcends the specific contents. In what's often the case with powerful art, the play is sometimes clumsy, but it works as art because it's about what it's like to be a human being in any times, and the costs, the temptations, the folly, and the pain of trying to achieving a burning spirituality.

A winner of a Kennedy Center Fund for New Plays grant, "The Mad Dancers" by Yehuda Hyman, draws on an unfinished story by Rabbi Nachman, a famous Hasidic leader who died in 1810 at an early age. It focuses on the search by the Rabbi for his successor because he knows he is fading and lo and behold, he finds one in contemporary San Francisco in the person of Elliott, a nebbish-like gay office worker who's become distant from his religion and life. What the Rebe sees is a large, generous and determined heart which can withstand the fire, if not temptation.
Of course, this is by way of repeatedly telling a story. Elliot not only has to be made aware of his mission as an almost messianic future successor-not to mention someone on whose shoulders rest the fate of humanity itself-but hehas to go through a series of adventures. He's often found wanting, but always ends up wanting to continue the journey.
In this Theater J production, director Nick Olcott and co-director Liz Lerman have fused, passionately, and with great skill, words and movement, dance and story, as a way of illustrating the story. The followers of the Rabbi tell the story through movement, and the movements are powerful, they amount to fiery poetry. What's even better are the performances of Naomi Jacobsen as the Rebe and the various characters who are part of Elliot's travels, and Alek Friedman as Elliot himself. If Jacobsen demonstrates an urgent serenity, and a pragmatic tenderness and infuses all her characters with those qualities, Friedman's Elliot is a happening guy, nervous, spasmodic to a modern, multi-task tune, and, despite a certain reluctance, practically burning with the desire experience the fire that gives meaning to existence. And boy, does he ever. For the audience's convenience, there's a glossary of Hasidic terms provided in the theater program. This is helpful, and certainly interesting.
But it doesn't quite explain how Bill Hamlin, playing the self-assured devil-tempter, bastes a live chicken with increasing enjoyment. Or how the dancing of the Rebe's followers, and Eliot's own spasms, seem like offerings.
This production-and you can't always say why-has a song to sing. It's a message to the modern about the positive potency of spirituality and the attractive deadness at the heart of cynicism. Or it could be merely about wanting to, needing to, whenever you can, dance.



God needs me. That discovery changed my life.

My research for directing The Mad Dancers exposed me for the first time to the concept of tikkun olam. This profoundly Jewish thought has altered my spiritual life forever. The notion that God is out of balance, and that my spiritual and physical actions can lead to a restoration of cosmic and social harmony --- that idea is infinitely beautiful to me. It gives me a place to stand in the universe that I have never had before.

I grew up in a mainstream Protestant Christian church. The religion of my childhood preached that God loves me, never that God needs me. I came out of Sunday school feeling that human beings are basically the mistake God regrets having made. We're inherently imperfect and sinful. God gave us paradise; we blew it. He sent his Son to save us; we made a mess of that, too. God loves us, but only if we remain constantly apologetic, begging for a mercy we don't deserve. (The seminal tract of my denomination is, after all, Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.) Cosmically, we're nothing but an annoyance to the Divine Being.

And practically, in the world, the only life pleasing to God is the imitation of Christ. I was supposed to give up all my possessions and live to serve my fellow man. The problem was, I never wanted to do anything except make theatre. There's only so far you can go in convincing yourself that making theatre is unselfish service to others. Plus, I like the world. I like food, I like drink, I like sex. The pain of Protestantism for me was that I was always feeling guilty about the things I liked best. So for this lapsed member of the pilgrim Choir, the idea that pursuing my passion and enjoying the pleasures of the world are acceptable to God was the opening of a new world. The concept that such pursuits, if performed with a joyful awareness of God, can actually bring about a healing of my soul, of the world, and of the Divine itself - the idea fills me with a excitement about living that I'm still coming to grips with. Thinking about tikkun olam fills me with joy daily.

My researches also led me to a couple of thoughts about Jewish history and religion in general that I'll be bold enough to share. First, Hasidism in its core is about a personal, emotional relationship with God; the focus is not on rules, but on the experiences of God. It origin was a populist and (in the case of Rabbi Nachman) inclusive movement. Second, the genius of Judaism has been its ability to change. Adapting to new circumstances, countries, and times has enabled Judaism to withstand millennia of persecution.

I wonder if what is true of organisms may also be true of religion: The ability to change, adapt, and grow is health; rigidity and resistance can spell doom.
-Nick Olcott

May 2003

FRED MICHAEL BEAM (Shimon/Gardener): is thrilled to be a part of The Mad Dancers' production after participating in a reading of the same play at the Arena Stage in Washington DC. His acting credits include Nicholas in "By The Music of Spheres" at Goodman Theater; Harry in "Harry the Dirty Dog" at Bethesda Academy of Perfroming Arts; Witness in "Miracle Workers" at Arena Stage; "Fall Out Shelter, The Dirt Maker" and "The Underachiever" at The Kenndy Center; the title character in "Othello" at Gallaudet University; and Steve in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Sign-Rise Cultural Arts in Washington, D.C. He also performs in his one-man shows, "Fred Michael Beam: Sign Me a Story" and "Black, Deaf, Male: Who Am I?", which tour nationwide. He was a member of "I Didn't Hear That Color", the first black deaf play ever produced... ...He is currently an executive director of Invisible Hands, Inc. which promotes deaf awareness through performing arts and was a founding member of The Wild Zappers, an all deaf male dance company (

ALEK FRIEDMAN (Elliott): Fluent in American Sign Language, Mr. Friedman has performed with several deaf theater companies since graduation from Wesleyan University in 1997. He played Benvolio in Deaf West's LA production of "Romeo and Juliet: Circus Verona." He then toured with The National Theatre of the Deaf in their original children's production, "The World of Whys."......Between these productions, Mr. Friedman has performed with New York's WWOW Radio Mystery Theater... He also worksas a director and film editor, and recently co-wrote the feature film, "Heaven's Pond," currently in post-production. By day, Mr. Friedman is a certifiedASL interpreter in New York City. His most exciting production is coming up in June 2003, when he will play the groom in his upcoming wedding to co-star for life, Sara Ridberg.

SARA RIDBERG (Naftali/Brenda):

BILL HAMLIN (The Old Gentleman):



JESSE TERRILL (Yudel, Composer):

LAUREL DUGAN (Follower):

DEBORAH KARP (Follower):



NICOLE WILLIAMS (Follower, Dance Captain):


March 23 - April 22, 2001

By Yehuda Hyman
Directed by Todd Salovey

Meet Elliott Green. Elliott is a word processor at IBM. Elliott likes his job. Elliott leads a normal life. Very normal. Until... Elliott encounters seven mysterious characters and embarks on a wild journey that leads straight into his soul. And yours.

The Mad Dancers is an exhilarating modern comedy inspired by the classic Chassidic tale, The Seven Beggars. A magical fusion of ecstatic dance and spirited live music from Eastern Europe, Yemen, India, Ethiopia and Spain, this World Premiere production pierces into the heart of mysticism as it takes you on a voyage across space, time and cultures. The Mad Dancers was the recipient of a prestigious grant from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.

The San Diego Rep, San Diego, CA. March 23 - April 22, 2001
Featuring Jaye Austin-Williams, John Campion, Steve Gunderson, Steve Lipinsky, Dimiter D. Marinov, Chaz Mena, and Yehuda Hyman. Directed by Todd Solovey

The McCarter Theatre, Princeton NJ. Reading January 11, 1999

The Kennedy Center Award:
In 1999, The Kennedy Center awarded The Mad Dancers by Yehuda Hyman its Grant for New American plays.

Six American plays, and the theaters that will premiere them, were awarded grants from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. The Fund also bestowed its Roger L. Stevens Award on four other playwrights whose work shows extraordinary promise. Now in its 13th year, the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays is a project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Countrywide Home Loans Inc., in cooperation with the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The recipients of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays production grants were chosen from a large pool of applications received from around the country. Kennedy Center President Lawrence J. Wilker announced the winners at a luncheon honoring the Fund recipients. They were "See Under: Love" a play by Corey Fischer; "The Order of Things", a play by Melinda Lopez; "The Mad Dancers", a play by Yehuda Hyman; "The Last of the Thorntons", a play by Horton Foote; "Inns and Outs", a play by Caleen Sinnette Jennings; and "The Hollow Lands", a play by Howard Korder.


Yehuda Hyman's play plays with a rabbi's tale, adding world music and ecstatic dancing to the mix
By Anne Marie Welsh
San Diego Union-Tribune Theater Critic
March 22, 2001

Ten years ago, actor-writer Yehuda Hyman had a vision: seven chambers, seven different stories, a gardener no one could understand. From those strange inspirations came a decade of travel, some 20 drafts of a script, and beginning tomorrow night on the Lyceum Stage, "The Mad Dancers," his mysterious new play with world music and ecstatic dancing.
"Actually getting a play produced is a miracle," says Hyman before a rehearsal. The mild-mannered artist not only wrote the play, he choreographed it and takes the leading role of Elliott, a computer nerd transported to other worlds to find, well, his soul.
The San Diego Rep and its artistic associate Todd Salovey have had their collective eyes on Hyman's developing piece since he first came to the theater to choreograph Salovey's 1993 production of "The Dybbuk."
Salovey read, and later produced the 40-minute opening section of "Dancers," and soon became convinced that this was "the most exciting new Jewish script I had seen in a long, long time," he says.
"And it wasn't about leaving tradition, or being a victim of prejudice, or being upset about your mother."
For Hyman, the production is a kind of "miracle," a piece that pulls together strengths that sometimes felt incompatible.
Hyman knew from the age of 6 that he wanted to be in theater. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he performed in school shows, was a boy soprano cast in New York City Opera performances, and moved into dance as a teen-ager, jazz first, then ballet with the famed Tatiana Riabouchinska, then modern with Graham Company veteran Jaime Rogers. Hyman soon won a scholarship to Maurice Bejart's Mudra school in Brussels, headquarters of the Ballet of the XXth Century.
When he returned to the United States, he was 17 and lived in New York, acting, studying, performing, temping.
"I was always an odd duck," he says, "not a juvenile, not a leading man. I never quite fit in. I got my Equity card, and I began developing my first (theater) pieces with friends."
All along he wrote, but it wasn't until he returned to L.A. and met his "first true mentor," James Carroll Pickett, that he began taking himself seriously as a writer. He had two plays produced at Equity waiver houses in L.A., but after Pickett's AIDS-related death, Hyman moved to San Francisco and dove even more deeply into the ideas that led to "The Mad Dancers."
Hyman had never heard of Rabbi Nachman's tale "The Seven Beggars." A friend described the story and its influential (and controversial) author, the mystic storyteller who died in 1810 and still is revered as the leader of the Breslover sect of Judaism. The seven-part story fit Hyman's seven-seven vision. He linked it to his wish to focus on a frustrated computer nerd, Elliott, and a rabbi who would take him into the different chambers.

World stage
In 1992, Hyman visited Israel for the first time. It proved a revelation. There he participated in a Judaic artists' symposium that opened his eyes to the worldwide variety of Jewish cultures.
"We tend to think of Judaism as Eastern European," he says, "but I heard a reading of lyric Spanish poetry, from the 12th century, very erotic and beautiful. There was an Moroccan artist with a drum, Yemenite hymns.
"I thought, what if the different stories occurred in different places? So I began traveling more, to India, and to the Ukraine where Rabbi Nachman lived and died."
Is Elliott, the soul-seeking word processor, a disguised Yehuda Hyman?
"Let's just say I've become a very fast typist. The hard part was when I was temping with a head full of burning ideas. It was 8 a.m. at Delta Dental and I wanted to be writing," says the playwright.
Salovey has assembled a top-drawer cast to launch Hyman's piece. He and Hyman auditioned in San Diego, New York and Los Angeles until they found the distinctive personalities they needed for the multiple -- and in some cases unusual -- roles.
John Campion, so powerful and funny as Menelaus in last summer's "The Trojan Women" at the Old Globe and earlier in the La Jolla Playhouse's "The Hairy Ape," plays the shape-shifting rabbi.
Also on board: San Diego's Steve Gunderson, whose familiar voice will embrace a new range of musical styles, and who has "had to learn a new language" for the show. Daniel Hoffman, a San Francisco-based klezmer musician, composed the score. Rep regular Guilio Cesare Perrone created the set, its cobalt blue hue based upon the predominant color of the mystical city of Tsfat.
Salovey is a modest man, completely confident of the "truth, beauty and humor" in the new show. He will crow, however, for the Rep's coup: "How many theaters do you know who've earned two big grants in one year?" He's referring to a high-profile Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays grant award of $35,000 for "The Mad Dancers" and a similar AT&T grant for Luis Valdez's "The Mummified Deer" last fall.
The lessons of "The Mad Dancers" may be deep and mysterious, Salovey says, but the dancing, which awakens the soul of Elliott, may also come in handy.
"I jump in everytime I can to dance with the cast -- until I get in the way. At least now I'll be popular. Not every Jew can come in to a bar mitzvah or a wedding and do a real Yemenite dance."

The rabbi has something to say
By Anne Marie Welsh
April 2, 2001
San Diego Union Tribune
Like the wisdom of the Meister Eckhart or Lao-Tzu, the tales of Rabbi Nachman, the last Jewish mystic, come down to us as sayings: "Through joy the spirit becomes settled; through sadness it goes into exile."
So what's the meaning of a 225-year old enigma in the age of information? Everything, it turns out, for Elliott Green, the San Francisco nebbish who leaves word processing behind when he meets the rabbi and his creations during Yehuda Hyman's wild and raw music-and-dance fable, "The Mad Dancers."
The quirky and surprisingly funny work-in-progress opened Friday at the Lyceum Space as the kickoff to the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival. Don't worry, be happy, "The Mad Dancers" doesn't require much historical knowledge of the rabbi from Breslov, impersonated here by John Campion, in a wizardly shape-shifting performance as sweet as it is sharp. Philosopher Martin Buber, who compiled and commented upon Nachman's 13 published tales, said the nature-loving mystic told his Hasidic stories in response to questions from his disciples. How to rejoice in the midst of sorrow? The answer to that one came in "The Seven Beggars," the only tale the rabbi did not finish and the one that inspired Hyman's still-in-process musical.
It opens with Nachman and four followers gathered for one last story-telling session, a confab that rises magnificently into song, before the beloved rabbi fades away from consumption. Stroking the cheeks of his dear friends, his eyes lit with love, Campion's Nachman pulls us into the narrative, himself becoming some of the beggars, speaking cryptically, time-traveling to meet Elliott, the IBM-er chosen to become a prince of the soul. "May you be as I am," the rabbi-as-blind man tells Elliott, planting a big wet one on the baffled crack typist's cheek.
The nerdy anti-hero meets other beggars bearing messages, his strange journey punctuated by comedy sketches, some so hilarious they could play "Saturday Night Live." Leaving his cubicle behind early on, Elliott heads out onto San Francisco's Market Street for the compulsive ritual of his morning break. Sip, Bite, Read. A latte, a chocolate croissant, the Chronicle. Sip Bite, Read. Madonna. Britney Spears. Johnny Depp. Writer/choreographer Hyman plays Elliott with a bewildered innocence that's part Bill Murray, part Candide.
A later sketch is the comedic high point. Elliott has almost made it to the allegorical garden planted by a deaf, sign language-speaking farmer (Jaye Austin-Williams). Instead he chooses the seductions of the Cafe Torrero where a belly dancer undulates, pillows cushion his generous behind and a manic waiter (Chaz Mena) describes the oiling, spicing, rolling, and baking of a chicken with sex-chat gusto.
There's a wonderful Yemenite song for Steve Gunderson, the local musical comedy pro who's thoroughly convincing in the curls and robes of a disciple. And playing multiple tempters and villains is Dimiter D. Marinov, sleek, sly, and insinuating.
Director Todd Salovey has managed to unify an evening of many conflicting strands and styles, mostly by the strength of his cast, though also by the simple imaginative power of the staging. The ensemble often performs, whether dancing or not, with the unanimity of a dance company... Campion has been here often in tough, scary roles, including Yank in "The Hairy Ape" at La Jolla Playhouse, and the sicko womanizer Menelaeus last year at the Old Globe. The range of his talent is quite amazing in "The Mad Dancers." As Elliott Green, Hyman brings sharp timing to the Yiddish humor and infectious moments of abandon.
Playwright/choreographer: Yehuda Hyman. Director: Todd Salovey. Music: Daniel Hoffman. Set: Giulio Cesare Perrone. Costumes: Brandin Baron. Lighting: Geoff Korf. Sound: Todd M. Reischan. Cast: John Campion, Steve Gunderson, Yehuda Hyman, Steve Lipinsky, Dimiter, Marinov, Chaz Mena, Jaye Austin-Williams.

Evil Chicken
"Always remember joy is not nearly incidental to your quest. It is vital."
Reviewed by Jeff Smith, THEATER CRITIC
April 5, 2001
Directed by Todd Salovey; cast, Yehuda Hyman, Steve Gunderson, John Campion, Steve Lipinsky, Dimiter Marinov, Chaz Mena, Jaye Austin-Williams; scenic design, Giulio Cesare Perrone; costumes, Brandin Baron; lighting, Geoff Korf; sound, Todd M. Reischman; choreography, Hyman; original music, Daniel Hoffman. Playing through April 22; Tuesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For information call 619-544-1000.

It's around 1810. The Rebbe -- who may be the profound Chasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov -- is dying of TB. His successor must have seven qualities: able to remember everything; able to find and care for a mysterious garden; know the secret of how to make a day; have a great singing voice; be strong enough to lift everyone up; able to find and heal a princess; be a great dancer.

Feel excluded? Even if you can dance and sing? Most people prefer oblivion to total recall and concoct means to facilitate it. Gardens? Great. But how to make a day? And lift everyone up? Who, other than a Messiah, has that strength?

The Rebbe's followers can't think of anyone. So he encourages them to "look beyond beyond," 191 years into the future. And they find a word processor working for IBM in San Francisco. He's Eliott Green (formerly Greenberg), who claims he's happy, though at times he'd love to smash a few video screens and shoot choice phrases at his overseer, Brenda (okay, while we're on the subject, IBM's dress code stinks). And his idea of major fun comes during a break, when he eats a chocolate-covered croissant and reads the entertainment section of the Chronicle.

This guy, this nebbish, should succeed the great Rebbe? Come on! Elliott can't keep out of his own way. Rabbi Nachman once said, "Always remember joy is not nearly incidental to your quest. It is vital." If Elliott gets jollies from croissants, could he even handle manic, floodlit joy? Or dance to music no one else hears?

Yehuda Hyman's Mad Dancers tells stories within stories and travels through time and space to explore Elliott's soul. He begins as a miserable, "big fat loser," alienated from the present and the past. He has settled for second-rate his entire life, and now practically everything conspires against true joy. Through a series of adventures, he reconnects with his Jewish heritage and lets go of substitutes for elation. Along the way, self-discovery becomes an inevitable by-product.

Mad Dancers has an enormous canvas. It's a musical, a drama, a multicultural dance concert. Elliott must meet seven characters. These range from an ancient blind woman to an Ethiopian hunchback. Each has a lesson. And trailing him throughout is an Old Gentleman who, like Faust's Mephistopheles, is a spirit of denial attempting to thwart Elliott from bliss. Each new character brings a different style, musical flavor, and tone to the production, which should -- though doesn't always -- have the shape-shifting quality of a hall of, say, seven mirrors.

Ultimately, The Mad Dancers is after the ineffable, and to reveal Jewish mysticism through everyday events. To get there, however, the text and production must honor so many obligations (narrate, dance, dialogue, entertain, enlighten) that, like Elliott stumbling and spilling his cappuccino on San Francisco streets, some get in the others' way. When the elements connect, the show comes to life.

One example, in which the least likely moment became the most memorable: Elliott's at a restaurant, run by the Old Gentleman. A waiter recites the menu: the usual, chicken, fish, lamb. Averse to red meat, Elliott asks about the chicken. The waiter, played brilliantly by Chaz Mena, doesn't just reply, he gives the most passionate speech a waiter ever uttered: a paean to the preparation of fowl. In this moment, and even though the waiter's in cahoots with evil, Mad Dancers unlocks the mundane and reveals the expansive.

The Rebbe promises to show "how one can rise from deep depression to great happiness." As the play unfolds, even though Elliott seems the unpromising hero, the ending's never in doubt. They'll get there, in the end; they're just taking their time... We learn late that Elliott is really special -- as in Hoo-wee beaucoup! But the play can't reveal it beforehand (and neither should I). The absence of this knowledge detracts from the narrative's drive, however. As does the Old Gentleman. He's the "Evil Inclination," ever conspiring to turn one from the path. But as played by Dimiter Marinov, he's more suave than sinister, a slick, ineffectual dude who poses neither threats nor temptations. Although Evil's never had to be bug-eyed to function, in this case, giving the Old Gent some menace would make the ending more in doubt and give the script more internal combustion... director Todd Salovey deserves credit for taking on this world-premiere project. He has also cast the show well. Usually when playwrights perform in their works, they model their clothing or utter one line. Yehuda Hyman, who wrote Mad Dancers, stars as the self-effacing Elliott. And because he's got engaging comic talents, here's a rare instance of an author getting exactly what he wants on a stage. John Campion is a most versatile actor. When he played Yank in the La Jolla Playhouse's Hairy Ape, I assumed he was typecast: a big, physical performance, a caged animal spitting fire. So raillery's his métier? Not at all. The same actor plays the Rebbe and an international cast of other characters -- a hunchback, a stutterer -- all sharply defined and memorable. The show's dancing never gets as "mad" as one might expect, but Hyman choreographs in many languages, and Daniel Hoffman's original music demonstrates, among other things, a Campion-like versatility of a fiddle and clarinet in tandem.

The Mad Dancer
Reviewed by Pat Launer of KPBS-FM (Airdate April 6, 2001)
Like the Kabbalah it invokes, The Mad Dancers is Jewish mysticism... it is dense and complex, opaque and indirect, a parallel universe full of symbolism and stories, where nothing is what it could take you a lifetime to figure it all out, to unwrap all the secrets and symbols, the messages and meaning. The best thing to do is let yourself be spirited away, lifted by the music and the dance, and magically, mystically, intuitively, you will lean the lessons of life hidden within the text.... [it] is a comedy with magnificent music and yes, even some mad dancing....

A highly assimilated Jew, Elliott has lost touch with his heritage and his happiness. The Rebbe visits him in the person of Seven Beggars -- one blind, one deaf, one without hands, one with no legs, a Yemenite stutterer, an Ethiopian hunchback. Ironically, what each is lacking turns into his biggest asset: nothing is as it seems. One by one, they entice him along, on his path -- to find the garden, to find fulfillment, to find bliss. At every step of the way, Elliott is tempted by the Old Gentleman, the Evil spirit, what the Jews call the Yetzor Hora, the dark force that will always try to lure you into self-sabotage. Ten years in the making, loosely based on a story by the influential, controversial Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, this world premiere captures the fire and light of Jewish mysticism. The story itself and the stories within are magical. If we experienced it all uninterrupted, without an intermission, we would be completely transported, just like Elliott. Though the play is a bit protracted and prolix, Todd Salovey has directed with a deft and dexterous hand, trusting the audience imagination and using low-tech stage wizardry to create an enchanted evening, thanks to an outstanding collaborative team.

The physically, intellectually and emotionally agile Yehuda Hyman serves as writer, choreographer -- and Elliott Green. John Campion is brilliant as the shape-shifting Rebbe Each of the other chameleon-like cast members has at least one incandescent moment: Chaz Mena in his hilarious turn as a Middle Eastern sex-club waiter; Jaye Austin-Williams as the Deaf signing gardener; Steve Gunderson singing a beautiful Yemenite ballad; Dimiter Marinov as the irresistibly sinister Old Gentleman. Daniel Hoffman's original music is marvelous, excellently complemented by the evocative set, lighting and sound. The secret, mystical message? Act on your dreams. Trust the universe. Seek the garden. Look for joy. Sing. Dance. Find your bliss. And metaphors be with you.

Chassidic Tale Comes To Life
Reviewed by Yvonne Greenberg
The San Diego Jewish Times, April 26, 2001
Cleverly written... exhilarating... a magical blend of ecstatic dances and spirited live music from Eastern Europe, Yemen, India, Spain, and Ethiopia... Hyman has created a poetic, interesting, and philosophical script.

Reviewed by Jim Trageser
The American Reporter (Excondido), April 14, 2001
Firmly rooted in modern Jewish comedy.... In the following seven trials of prince-elect Elliot Green, the audience also gets a chance to immerse itself in Jewish mysticism, in the larger-than-life status given to a rebbe in some Orthodox communities

Reviewed by Eileen M. Sondak
The San Diego Jewish Press Heritage, April 6, 2001
Magical...splendid... Yehuda Hyman as its brilliant star... [it] is a must see production that uses bits and pieces about a mystic storyteller revered by some... but Hyman's genius runs the gamut from making the Rebbe a time traveler in search of his successor... to creating lively dances full of spiritual energy. The playwright insists, "My soul was roused by the lush and erotic poetry of 12th century Spanish Jews... hypnotized by Moroccan chants, swept away by transcendent Yemenite hymns, Persian love songs..." You'll be swept away by the production.

Jewish Arts and Minds
Reviewed by Vera Trofimenko
The San Diego Jewish Press Heritage, March 30, 2001
Admirers of Jewish artistry rejoice... .The plays appeal is enhanced by a blend of live music and dancing. Some of the music has been brought into the play as a result of Yehuda Hyman's extensive world travels; the rest is composed by Daniel Hoffman. The musicians perform heavenly melodies from a balcony above the stage, from which the periodically descend to do their magic among the actors. ... [Hyman] has traveled to Cochin and Bombay .. and Tsfat... [and participated] in a pilgrimage on Rosh Hashana to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman in Uman.

Mad About Dancing?
Reviewed by Joshua Cohen
The La Jolla Light, March 29, 2001
It was a cold and windy night, says Hyman, about the time he checked into the Hotel Pomegranate, nestled in the hills of the Galilee. He could tell the place was strange just by the look of it. Unable to sleep, Hyman sought the company of the oracular Rabbi whom he asked, "What is the mystery of Tsfat?" "That will all be revealed to you", was the rabbi's shrewd reply. "I began to envision the spirit of an ancient rabbi," {Hyman] said. "He was smiling at me through the mirrors of an armoire - beckoning and inviting me ion what became a nine year quest of spiritual knowledge and personal understanding."... he immediately began writing, "The Mad Dancers" ... Using the trials and tribulations of a fictional Jew named Elliot green, Hyman examines the nuances of his own identity. The first part of the play is set in Elliot's world.. On a mid-day coffee break from his desk job at IBM, Elliot meets seven people with disabilities, goes for a bus ride and winds up in a strange hotel. At the hotel he stumbles across a mysterious suitcase whose contents send his on a voyage across two centuries and three continents... He recruited The San Francisco Klezmer Experiences's Daniel Hoffman for an original score.

L.A. Tour Staged With Heart, History
by Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

It is a somewhat surrealistic scene taking place in the kitchen of the Greenway Court Theater in the Fairfax District. One man is narrating a story of the Los Angeles eruv (Shabbat boundary), which in his narration is both a religious frontier and a metaphorical border in which to tell his story. Around him are two women and a man acting as malachim (angels or messengers) and, like an updated Greek chorus, they undulate their bodies in acknowledgement of what he is saying, miming his words in dreamy motions. In the next room, four actors are going through a scene in which a Russian Jewish mother snubs her son's wife by not eating her "fackacteh" chopped liver because it was not kosher enough. Tracy Young, the director, is blocking them, advising them to move about the stage to keep the action fresh. The woman playing the mother is questioning Tracy about her character's resentment of her son.

That is how rehearsal time goes for the "Center of the Star, A Jewish Tour of Los Angeles," a new play by Yehuda Hyman that is the latest project of the Cornerstone Theater Company (CTC) and Greenway Arts Alliance.

The CTC is an 18-year-old, multiethnic ensemble theater company that partners with community groups to produce original plays that explore different ethnic groupings in Los Angeles. This time they are working the Jewish community, partnering with the University of Judaism (UJ), the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, Workmen's Ciricle, Temple Emanuel, Emanuel Arts Center, Adat Ari El, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Skirball Cultural Center for "Center of the Star," which will run for five weeks. In deference to the Jews involved in the production, Cornerstone is not rehearsing or performing the play on Friday nights.

"Ultimately, it's about building bridges between diverse communities," said Lee Lawlor, Cornerstone's communications director. "We want to hear people's stories. We want to hear what is special about being Jewish that makes it different to other communities, what are the traditions and what is the history of the community. Generally we spend close to a year identifying strategic partners within the community, we meet with them and based on those meetings the playwright will craft a play. We try to have either the playwright or the director be from within the community."

"This is not about imposing a play on a group of people, but trying to have that play grow out of a group of people," she continued.

To write "Center of The Star," a sprawling history of the Jewish community in Los Angeles and a personal narrative of one family's place in it, Hyman conducted 48 private interviews with all sorts of Jews - rabbis, secular Jews, Jews of different ethnicities. He also did 18 group interviews, or in Cornerstone theater parlance, "story circles," with, among others, Jews at Beit T'Shuva (a Jewish treatment center), Iraqi Jews, Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israelis in Los Angeles, rabbinic interns at the UJ, members of a Conservative synagogue in the Valley and a Reform temple in Beverly Hills.

"I love hearing people's stories," Hyman said. "[In the story circles] I would get into questions of faith, asking tough questions about the concept of the Chosen People, and what does that mean, and when they had experiences when they felt their faith was tested. I got a wide variety of responses - everything from heart-rending stories to people telling me that Judaism is not about faith but about doing a certain set of things we do everything, to people who had mystical experiences with the religion."

From those interviews, and his own research into the history of the Jewish community in the city, Hyman wrote a multilayered, metaphysical play that uses 32 actors to follow the migratory trends of Jews in Los Angeles.

In the play, Jackie, a successful photographer, goes on a tour of Los Angeles, which sparks memories of her grandmother from Boyle Heights, her Fairfax childhood, her teenage yearnings in Brentwood and the tragedy that led to her exodus from the city. "The play is very specifically Los Angeles in its geography and its essence and its energy and rhythm," said Hyman. "The Pacific Ocean plays a huge role in the play - it's the ocean as geography, and it is also the ocean as mikvah [Jewish ritual bath]."

Hyman said that he is sad that his play could not tell everyone's stories, but he hopes that those who watch the play will have a sense of pride about the expansiveness of the Los Angeles Jewish community. He said that he received the inspiration for the play from the Star of David.

"If you look at the Star of David, you will see two interesting triangles: one pointing upward to heaven, and the other downward," he said. "According to the mystic Gershom Sholem, we humans exist in that crossroads where the two stars intersect. 'Center of the Star' is a tour of that junction and the Jewish struggle to understand it, live in it and celebrate it."

"Center of the Star: A Jewish Tour of Los Angeles" will be playing at the Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, Jan. 29-Feb. 29. For tickets call (323) 655-7679 ext. 100, or go to

IN THE FALL 2005, THE MAD DANCERS was staged with some changes to the blocking and narrative and production at The Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

Excerpts from Reviews

Mixed Blood Theatre, The Mad Dancers
By Ed Huyck, TalkinBroadway-Minneapolis

Playwright Yehuda Hyman certainly doesn't lack in ambition. In The Mad Dancers, Hyman attempts to connect disparate Jewish traditions from around the world through the power of storytelling. The show, which opened Friday at the Mixed Blood Theatre, does a remarkable job of keeping all of the disparate bits together. Much of that is due to the strong production led by director Stan Wojewodski, Jr. and a commanding performance by Brain Sostek as the traveler Elliot.
Using the tale of "The Seven Beggars" as its core, The Mad Dancers travels far and wide. It centers on Elliot Green, a lowly worker in the data mines at IBM. A series of encounters on a seemingly normal Friday morning lead him on an epic journey around the globe. At each turn, he finds a new guide for his journey - a journey he is always hesitant to take any further.
Throughout, we see his story as told by Rebbe, a 19th century rabbi attempting to keep his own story going as he lies on his deathbed. It doesn't take long for the two stories to begin to merge, as Elliot's journey to save a wounded princess (or prince in his case) mixes in with the Rabbi and his followers' own journeys nearly two centuries before. All of this could easily descend into some all-too-polite cultural morass, but Hyman keeps the attention on the story, letting the different cultures - separated by geography and time - have their moments on stage.
It helps to have fine performances from the eight members of the cast. The focus throughout is on Sostek, who brings his dancer's grace to this most nebbish of characters. The changes in Elliot's demeanor are subtle, but Sostek slowly works them into the character, making his journey through this fantastical show perfectly natural.
The balance of the cast is also strong, especially Sally Wingert, who plays the ancient Rebbe with plenty of chutzpah, but never falls into cliché. That's true throughout the cast. It would be easy to rely on cultural expectations, but all are careful to make each character breathe with life.
The Mad Dancers is a dense and complex cultural and emotional stew, but one centered on the power of stories and words. When faced with the task of keeping an overloaded helicopter aloft, the pilot asks Elliot if he knows any jokes. Why? "We need to lighten the load." The Mad Dancers runs through Oct. 30 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Call 612-338-6131 for more information.

'Mad Dancers' tells magical, mystical tale
BY RENEE VALOIS, Pioneer Press, October 9, 2005
It's like falling into a dream - or a rabbit hole - but with a vulnerable young man named Elliott instead of Alice. "The Mad Dancers" At Mixed Blood Theatre moves with the rhythm and logic of a strange fairy tale, in a fantastical journey rife with symbolism that can't be missed - even if the exact meanings are open to interpretation.
It's the story of Elliott Green - a gay "secretary" who clenches his teeth as he insists that he loves his job and he's happy - really - in spite of an annoying boss who noisily sucks the dregs of her drink through a straw to punctuate her displeasure.
The magical Jewish spiritual leader Rebbe, who has no sons to take his place, decides that Elliott must be his heir. He reaches into the future from 1810 to shove Elliott into a mystical quest in which he meets seven figures that point him on the path.
A hunchbacked bicyclist from Ethiopia gives Elliott a lift, an innkeeper with no hands offers him a room with no windows, a mute man uses sign language to speak love and many other bizarre and colorful figures signify more than they seem.
One of the most compelling is the recurring devil-like character played with rich oiliness by Stephen Yoakam. He threatens to trap Elliott in darkness of one kind or another at every meeting.
Brian Sostek gives Elliott a sympathetic vulnerability that draws the audience along in spite of the character's constant rejection of his "hero" role. Sally Wingert nails the lynchpin role of Rebbe - the heart and soul of his Jewish people and a magical prophet to boot - with just the addition of a fake beard and a believable accent.
Director Stan Wojewodski Jr. weaves a mythic adventure via large acting that fits the eternal scale of the story. Sound and light are used to great effect to suggest changes in setting on the black hole of a stage. A spotlight shining horizontally through smoke shapes a tunnel when Elliott flees the villainous man who shadows him.
There's humor and tragedy and even some audience interaction - a bit akin to the moment in "Peter Pan" where the audience is urged to proclaim their belief in fairies to save Tinkerbell.
Elliott is seriously changed by the end - and the audience may still be puzzling out the meaning of the waiter who describes the preparation of a chicken entree as if it's a seduction, or the poisoned princess lying in a palace with walls of water who is resurrected by ten healing hand gestures.
It's a magical mystery tour worth taking as Mixed Blood's new show mixes metaphor with the strange mantra "you should be exactly as I am." Don't miss the bus

From Graydon Royce, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 15, 2005
"So this schmo, Elliot, has a problem. Modernity has sapped his energy for life. Stuck in a mind-numbing routine and hassled by a doughy supervisor, he plods forward like a zombie. Who can fault such a man when he escapes through time and space, searching for a reminder that he is human, a Jew connected by history's ethereal thread to father Abraham?
Elliot shoulders the angst and hopes of playwright Yehuda Hyman in "The Mad Dancers," a swirling work that borrows its dramaturgical vocabulary from David Lynch, Woody Allen and C.S. Lewis. Yes, that's an odd collection of references, but this is an odd work -- original and gorgeous yet perplexing ... in a skillful production directed by Stan Wojewodski.
.... Hyman links Elliot's plight to a 19th-century Ukrainian rebbe in need of a legate. As the rebbe begins to tell his Chasidic stories, the action switches to agitated and fragile Elliot, who responds to this mystical call. Soon our secular hero endeavors to rediscover his religious heritage and finds himself in a thicket of surreal characters -- an Indian with no hands, a deaf Sephardic gardener, a stuttering Yemenite and a constant evil presence... The playwright uses Elliot's quirky journey as a theatrical opportunity for performance. Stephen Yoakam, suave and sinister as the dark avatar, portrays a waiter in a metaphysical way-station cafe at one point and nearly stops the show with his hilarious description of how a chicken Elliot has ordered is to be prepared. J.C. Cutler uses his throaty vocal dexterity to make his characters rich and believable. And Sasha Andreev gives a nicely nuanced, tender performance as the deaf gardener who symbolizes Elliot's destiny.... Brian Sostek's Elliot has a natural unease about his situation without collapsing into nebbish stereotype. His smile and eager eyes create instant sympathy and, as a physical performer, Sostek is nimble and precise. This feels like a watershed role for his career. As the old rebbe, though, Sally Wingert does not disappear easily behind the whiskers and heavy coats. Wingert is among the very best actors in the Twin Cities, and this is difficult to say, but she's a 40ish woman playing an old, tubercular man. Try as I might to suspend disbelief, I still saw Wingert. "The Mad Dancers" has worth for its theatrical possibilities and Hyman's lyric unruliness. ..."
Additional Links - Books on Hassidism:
The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav
by Rabbi Arthur Green

This classic work explores the personality and religious quest of Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810), one of Hasidism's major figures. It unlocks the great themes of spiritual searching that make him a figure of universal religious importance.

[book] Your Word Is Fire
The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer
by Rabbi Arthur Green

The power of prayer for spiritual renewal and personal transformation is at the core of all religious traditions. Through the advice, parables, and explanations presented in this book, the Hasidic masters of the past speak to our own attempts to find meaning in prayer, and pierce to the heart of the modern reader's search for God.

[book] The Breslov Haggadah

This Haggadah has the traditional Hebrew text and a modern, clear translation, along with plenty of great supplementary material from Breslov Hasidic sources. Like most Breslov materials, it focuses primarily on using the teachings of Rebbe Nachman for developing the personal relationship between human beings and their Creator.

[book] The Empty Chair
Finding Hope & Joy - Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master,
Rebbe Nachmann of Breslov
by Breslov Research Institute Staff

[book] The Gentle Weapon
Prayers for Everyday and Not-so-Everyday Moments
Timeless Wisdom from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
by Moshe Mykoff, S. C. Mizrahi, Nahman Likute Moharan, Breslov Research Institute (Compiler), and Rebbe Nachman

[book] Nahman of Bratslav : The Tales
by Arnold J. Band

[book] Reb Nahman Stories
by Aryeh Kaplan

[book] Tales of the Hasidim
Book One: The Early Masters and
Book Two: The Later Masters/Two Books in One
by Martin Buber, Bonny V. Fetterman (Editor)

Prescriptions for Inner Strength, Meaning and Hope

How many of us, faced with the ups and downs of everyday life, are searching for the inner strength and confidence to renew our lives in a positive and meaningful way. Reb Noson's letters, based on the understanding and love he learned from the great chassidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, show how each of us can find that strength. Written between 1822 and 1824 by Rebbe Nachman's foremost disciple, Healing Leaves is a collection of excerpts from letters written for his family, friends and followers, to strengthen and comfort them in face of life's challenges and to help them attain peace and happiness.

Additional Links - Nahman, the biography:
Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810) lived during the height of the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe, at the peak of his short life becoming the zaddik of the town of Bratslav. He is perhaps most widely known for his tales. Deceptively simple parables and stories containing many elements of European folklore and fairytale, the tales are read both as literary masterpieces and as profound meditations on the relationship between God and man. What we know of Nahman's life and teachings comes from the writings of his biographer and disciple, Nathan of Nemirov.

It was almost inevitable that Nahman would become a zaddik, being the great-grandson of the founder the Hasidic movement, the Ba'al Shem Tov (known by the anagram "BeSHT'). Nahman was brought up in that revered Hasid's home town, Medzibozh in the Ukraine (then part of the Russian Pale of Settlement). Throughout his life, Nahman would be influenced by alternating periods of elation and depression. As a child, Nahman was said already to have begun the excruciating lifelong quest for nearness to God that colored much of his life's teachings. He spent many secret hours in prayer, in his family's attic. Ascetic from the start, he attempted to overcome the pleasure of eating. As an adolescent, he was consumed by sexual temptation, and as his early adulthood progressed, he claimed to have conquered sexual desire completely.

Nahman married at fourteen, moving, as was the tradition, to his father-in-law's house. He and his family then settled in Medvedevka. Early on, Nahman became conscious of his potential role as a zaddik (charismatic spiritual leader; lit, righteous one), and attracted followers. He was ambivalent, however, about fulfilling this calling, largely because he disapproved of the excesses of greed and power in many Hasidic courts, including that of his uncle Barukh of Medziboh. Nonetheless, by 1798 he had his own small group of followers.

Many Eastern European Jews had by Nahman's time traveled to and settled in Eretz Yisrael. Nahman's pilgrimage trip in 1798 proved to be a major turning point in his life. The difficult journey was terrifying and taxing for Nahman, especially because he traveled in the midst of the Napoleonic wars; he barely survived a sea battle and a shipwreck on his return trip. Nahman looked upon the journey to Eretz Israel as spiritual "trial by fire," and this concept of the the spiritually empowering ordeal would later be incorporated into his teachings. Nahman's behavior upon return has inspired puzzlement and varying interpretations. He returned home with a self-image as a zaddik and leader of Ukrainian Hasidism that was perhaps over-confident: He moved his family to Zlatipolia and attempted to start a following there in the middle of another zaddik's territory. A great scandal and furor among local Hasidim ensued, and the local zaddik initiated a heated campaign against the intruder. During this time, Nahman began to make veiled references to himself as zaddik ha-dor (lit., the righteous man of the generation), an expression implying that his leadership followed a direct line from Moses.

After two years of conflict with his rival in Zlatipolia, Nahman resigned himself to moving to Bratslav, a community which as yet had no zaddik, and where he could therefore lead his community of followers in peace. The persecution by his resentful brethren that he had brought upon himself in Zlatipolia never ceased completely, and was inherited by his followers after his death.

As the "Bratslaver zaddik," Nahman was known as the "master of dance and music." His most emphasized spiritual practice was hitbodedut (lit., solitude/seclusion), privately pouring out of one's heart in prayer before God. Nahman stressed to his followers the gravity of sin, acting as a confessor for them and taking on the role of healer of sinful souls. 1803 marked the beginning of a period of intense messianic activity for Nahman. He began to refer to himself as the Messiah ben Joseph (the precursor to the Davidic messiah), and to prepare his disciples for an imminent messianic redemption. Reaching fever pitch in 1806, these teachings were suddenly deprived of validity by a series of events on Yom Kippur; many followers abandoned Nahman, and the Bratslav community endured widespread derision. The death of his son and of his wife compounded Nahman's despair. He did not, however, give up his expectations for a coming redemption, channeling them into his Tales, all of were narrated between 1806 and his death in 1810.

Nahman became gravely ill with tuberculosis in 1807, and journeyed to Lemberg for medical treatment. While in Lemberg, he arranged for publication of his life's teachings. Compiled by Nathan, the volume bears the anagramic title Likutey MoHaRaN (Anthology of our Master Rabbi Nahman). The journey to Lemberg brought him in contact with the outside world and with the fledgling Haskalah (the Jewish enlightenment movement wherein Jews integrated themselves into the culture of the countries where they lived). Just before his death in 1810, Nahman traveled to Uman, with the purpose of saving the souls of the maskilim ("enlightened," secularized Jews); he struck up friendships there with many of them, creating scandal among his fellow Hasidim. Nahman died in Uman during Sukkot of 1810. His grave remains a pilgrimage site for Bratslaver Hasidim to this day.


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