Theater J revives a 1910 hit comedy-melodrama

'Money, Love, and Shame!' from Yiddish Theater Lab is a charming love letter to a bygone era.

Sit back to indulge in a comedy-melodrama. A streaming Zoom reading of a rediscovered play first produced in 1910. It is a love letter, with sharp edges, to a bygone time. A time of tintype slides and vivid piano music for dialogue. It is full of funny moments and entertaining situations done up in a broad acting style.

It is Money, Love, and Shame! subtitled Tsuris Galore (Yiddish for “lots of troubles”).

Produced under the auspices of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, the reading is the latest discovery by Theater J’s Yiddish Theater Lab. But know that for all its comic misdirection, Money, Love, and Shame! is way more than well-placed cute Yiddish-isms.

Just beneath its smooth surface, there are rougher currents that attest to the lives of immigrants a century ago. It is humor covering a cautionary tale about new immigrants to America (Greenhorns) who are trying to make it. What they find are the huge personal costs in their headlong attempts at a better life and finding love. Their pursuit of money, power, and marriage is no easy task, especially for those in the working class in a world full of sharply defined class distinctions.

The plot points for Money, Love, Shame! are noted by Theater J marketing information this way:

Everyone knows marrying for money can be a shaky proposition. Throw in a tacky landlord, a philandering chauffeur, an unplanned pregnancy, and a shocking courtroom reunion, and you’ve got a marriage that never stood a chance!

The play was written in Yiddish by Isidore Zolotarevski (1873–1946). When Money, Love, and Shame! was first produced in 1910 it was a hit, only to be forgotten over the decades. The Theater J English translation is by writer, director, and actor Allen Lewis Rickman.

Money, Love, and Shame! is a fine streaming event directed with a purposely broad hand by Theater J’s Adam Immerwahr who brought together an appealing, diverse cast. They delight in performing melodramatic styles that can be arch, tongue-in-cheek, and way tragic. The ensemble includes Andrea Goss, Jeremy Keith Hunter, Anne L. Nathan, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jon Norman Schneider, Todd Scofield, and Frank X. Each reads their lines full of emotions with their eyes large and expressive. As an ensemble they are just charming.

For those of a certain age, Money, Love, and Shame! can be like reading from the old The Jewish Daily Forward with its Bintel Brief section of letters to the editor where readers asked for advice about some delicate situations. (Personal note: my grandmother read the Daily Forward in Yiddish all her life. When I visited she would often read to me bits and pieces and translate in her own “acting” style.)

Money, Love, and Shame! is storytelling that will especially appeal to those who have an open desire to know how theater once was performed for the working-class and non-English-speaking Jewish immigrants who flocked into New York City’s Lower East Side over 100 years ago. The play’s subject matter is full of “lessons-to-learn.” I will not dare to give even hints to its final moments.

Money, Love, and Shame! is an opportunity to laugh even in the face of hard times and distress. Isn’t that how we try to survive at times? The reading will especially appeal to those who enjoy revivals and reimagining of neglected classic plays of the Yiddish theater in an modern English translation.

Running time: 90 minutes

Theater J’s Money, Love, and Shame!; or, Tsuris Galore is streaming on demand and available until Sunday, August 30, as a free, ticketed event. To register, click here. The program is downloadable here.


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