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Join poet Irena Klepfisz with scriptwriter/actor Naomi Newman and director Bruce Bierman for a discussion about translating poetry from “page to stage.”
Hosted by Laura Sheppard, Director of Events, Mechanics’ Institute.
Yiddish Theatre Ensemble, Berkeley, is producing Between Worlds, a new play based on the life and poetry of celebrated writer Irena Klepfisz. This production is inspired by Irena’s recently published book, Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971-2021 (Wesleyan University Press). The Jewish Book Council named Her Birth and Later Years a finalist for the Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Klepfisz was also honored by the Yiddish Book Center for the 2022 Year of Women in Yiddish. The production is part of YTE’s New Works Lab. Copies of Her Birth and Later Life are available for sale at Afikomen Books in Berkeley.
The play that will be discussed, Between Worlds, is conceived and written by acclaimed actress Naomi Newman in collaboration with dramaturg Zack Rogow. This original theatre piece, directed and choregraphed by YTE co-artistic director Bruce Bierman, is created by an ensemble of four actors. Naomi Newman, founder of Traveling Jewish Theatre, brings her enormous talents to the stage portraying the courageous poet, Holocaust survivor and activist Irena Klepfisz. The cast also includes renowned musicians percussionist Barbara Borden and Susanne DiVincenzo on cello and bass.
Weaving together a narrative story line with Irena’s poetry, the play describes seminal moments in her life and her role as the “keeper of accounts” of a vanished world. The vignettes describe her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto and survival in war-torn Poland. After immigrating to New York, she tells of her struggles with a new language and the pull of the world she left in Eastern Europe. Irena reveals intimacies as she explores her passions as a lesbian, the pleasures of a life-long relationship, and the death of a loved one. Ever present are the haunting memories of her father—a martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
A trailblazing lesbian poet, child Holocaust survivor, and political activist whose work is deeply informed by socialist values, Irena Klepfisz is a vital and individual American voice. This book is the first complete collection of her work. For fifty years, Klepfisz has written powerful, searching poems about relatives murdered during the war, recent immigrants, a lost Yiddish writer, a Palestinian boy in Gaza, and various people in her life. In her introduction to Klepfisz’s A Few Words in the Mother Tongue, Adrienne Rich wrote: “[Klepfisz’s] sense of phrase, of line, of the shift of tone, is almost flawless.” Her Birth and Later Years was a Finalist for the Jewish Book Award and winner of the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry.
Yiddish Theatre Ensemble presents this first New Works Lab production with four showcase performances August 16-20 at Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley.