“Old Wicked Songs” At New Jewish Bonds Two Generations With The Help Of Schumann


Jerry Vogel as Mashkan and Will Bonfiglio as Stephen in “Old Wicked Songs” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The young and the old lock in a battle during the insightful play, “Old Wicked Songs,” at New Jewish Theatre. We know the “old” will win out from the very beginning but it’s fascinating to watch both on this journey of growth and understanding. With Schumann’s song cycle “Dichterliebe” leading them, the two go through the expected series of emotions as they attempt to expand their artistic capabilities.


Professor Mashkan (Jerry Vogel) tries to instruct Stephen (Will Bonfiglio) as he attempts the song cycle in “Old Wicked Songs” presented by New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Two of the best local actors- one young, one older- meet to create these meaningful characters who we learn to love as the evening progresses. Jerry Vogel is the wise and somewhat weary Professor Mashkan who has fallen on hard times at the university in Vienna, Austria. The students are no longer beating down his door to study with him. In fact, the only student he has managed to acquire is a former child prodigy pianist from America who has somehow lost his spark and attempts to recapture it by studying piano in Vienna. That student is Will Bonfiglio as Stephen Hoffman who is surprised and angry to find out that his piano professor, Dr. Schilling, has passed him off to vocal professor Mashkan in an attempt to make him aware and appreciative of the singer in the process by studying vocal interpretation.


Jerry Vogel contemplates his latest student in the New Jewish production of “Old Wicked Songs.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Schumann’s song cycle becomes a major character as his “Dichterliebe” or “Poet’s Love” divides the scenes of the play into eight “movements” and a “Coda.” Using the poetry of Heinrich Heine’s “Lyrisches Intermezzo,” Schumann has created a lovely cycle which incorporates the unity of sadness and joy that Professor Mashkan believes every artist must experience before becoming truly great. So these two seemingly opposite characters build a relationship that goes beyond the music into emotions that are deep and help them to know each other as well as help each other.


Jerry Vogel as Professor Mashkan explains the pain and joy that must infuse your work to Will Bonfiglio as Stephen Hoffman in “Old Wicked Songs” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Playwright Jon Marans has created a play that ebbs and flows like a musical composition. Yes, the music is at the heart of the production but the real heart in the production is the strength and resolve of teacher and student and the life lessons they each learn from one another. It’s a beautiful script handled by two truly great actors. Tim Ocel has directed with heart as well. We suffer through the pains of the professor as he attempts to hold onto his dignity while charging for the pastry he serves to his student in order to afford a cab. We also see the pain of lost drive and talent from the young man as he tries to be strong and in control until he realizes that this man and he have so much in common.


Teacher and student embrace during a moment of painful discovery in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Old Wicked Songs.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

The Dunsi Dai set design is exquisite- an atelier music studio in 1986 Vienna. It becomes another matter for discussion between the two men as the younger one prefers the modern buildings in his native America while the professor tries to show him the beauty of the older buildings in his home. Maureen Berry’s lighting design is beautifully imagined and kudos to sound designer Robin Weatherall in coordinating the masterful music of Schumann to the two characters as they delve into the music and lyrics of the “Dichterliebe.” Appropriate costumes from Michele Friedman Siler who shows the steadiness of the professor as opposed to the transitions of Stephen.

Take two incredible actors and give them a beautiful script and you get “Old Wicked Songs.” This production runs at New Jewish Theatre through April 3rd.


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