The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 5, 2010


Crossing Delancey warms hearts this weekend at 51 Walden

Leslie Wagner as Bubbie in a scene with her grandaughter Izzy played by Leah Fine. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

Susan Sandler’s Crossing Delancey opens this weekend at 51 Walden in Concord Center, starring Carlisle’s own Leslie Wagner as Bubbie, and Leah Fine (Izzy), Michael Gilman (Sam), Cheryl Carter-Miller (Hannah) and Cliff Blake (Tyler). Carlisle is represented on the production staff as well: Rik Pierce is managing production photography, the sets are the brainchild of Allen Bantly and assistant stage management is provided by Pam Holleman.

Crossing Delancey is a New York story, set in the Jewish community of New York City’s Lower East Side. It opened in that city’s Jewish Repertory Theatre in 1985, and was made into a popular film in 1989. However, despite its Jewish roots and a healthy helping of Yiddish throughout its lilting script, its coming-of-age story is universal: a gentle, funny, heartwarming play about roots and wings.

Allen Bantly has designed the perfect atmosphere in his set: a unit that includes the “New Day Bookstore,” an uptown establishment that looks suspiciously like areas of the Concord Bookshop, a cramped Lower East Side apartment, a building under construction, and a park, complete with brick wall and graffiti. Bantly photographed locations on Delancey Street in New York for inspiration and accuracy. He joked that because of the graffiti, he was actually able to sign his set with his own initials, a decidedly Hitchcockian touch. He also noted that he painted a graphic mural on the brick that refers to an uncle of this production’s director, who was a victim in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. On many levels, the set introduces the play’s themes of connection, family and mutual support.

Do not come to Crossing Delancey expecting rapid-fire battles of wits or sweeping drama. Come instead prepared to slow the speed of everyday life and be cradled by the temperate wit and patient wisdom of characters who feel real: ordinary people living full, rich lives, who have the authority of their experience to ground them in our imaginations. This is not to say that the piece lacks broad comedy or sparkle, but this play proceeds at a gentle trot, not a gallop. To follow the story of a young woman who comes to understand herself at this pace is a truly lovely experience in the theater. Sandler and Concord Players Director Roxanna Myrhum allow the characters to develop and grow, nurturing them and the audience in the process.

Izzy, the young girl who has moved uptown away from her roots on the Lower East Side, has a “great apartment,” a “great job” promoting book authors, a flirtation with the handsome and self-centered author Tyler (Cliff Blake) and everything she needs to be successful. Izzy’s Bubbie (grandmother), however, knows that she is not fulfilled and spends the play bringing about her granddaughter’s realization of what true success and fulfillment are.

Leslie Wagner approaches her role as Bubbie with seamless concentration and strength and absolutely inhabits the character of this immigrant woman who has made her way in the unforgiving city and found happiness in the simplicity of hard work and family. That happiness is the legacy she wants to pass on to her granddaughter. Wagner gives Bubbie an Eastern European accent spiced with accurately pronounced Yiddish and renders her as a sort of Jewish leprechaun, on the one hand an irresistible force, and on the other a twinkling, mischievous plotter. Despite her newfound independence, Izzy really has no chance against Bubbie, and neither do we.

Leslie Wagner is a “mischievous plotter.” (Photo by Rik Pierce)

Bubbie is assisted by the neighborhood “shatchun,” or marriage broker, Hannah Mandelbaum. Hannah, “a very large woman” with a voracious appetite for food, gossip, and neighborhood business, provides the play’s belly-laughs and is executed in perfect timing by Cheryl Carter-Miller. She changes the pace of the play, cutting a swath as wide as eight-laned Delancey Street with her connections, her deals and her matchmaking. “I know what’s good!” she shouts, as Izzy runs away from her at top speed. Her Brooklyn accent, raucous voice and overpowering zest for her marital missions are hilarious.

Sam (Michael Gilman), a young man wise beyond his years, a philosopher and poet, does not run away from Hannah Mandelbaum this time. He recognizes that, “Mrs. Mandelbaum has to make a living,” so he patiently sorts through the photographs of single women she thrusts at him until he decides, “This one I’ll meet.”

You can see where this is leading. After all, Crossing Delancey is a romantic comedy. But under its light comedic tone is a ground wire of depth that pays homage to our bests instincts, to the things that feel right. Come and let this play work its gentle magic and you will leave the theater well satisfied, as if you have just enjoyed one of Bubbie’s incomparable kugels. It is food for the soul.

Production dates: November 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m., November 14 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available by telephone (1-978-369-2990), by email (, by mail (check with a SASE to The Concord Players - Tickets P.O. Box 22 Concord, MA 01742), or in person at the box office at 51 Walden, Concord (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. November 6 and 13).

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