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Remember This Trick

  • Theater, Experimental
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Remember This Trick
Photograph: Courtesy Justin J WeeRemember This Trick

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

Target Margin’s Remember This Trick is a work of deceptive simplicity. The wide-open playing space at the company's unprepossessing Doxsee Theater in Sunset Park is surrounded by a semicircle of chairs and backed by turquoise platforms with motley decorations: shiny metallic fringe, artificial flowers, small lines of Hebrew text. Five actors play all the parts—including characters from the Book of Esther, the spine of the show—with minimal props, costumes and furniture (except for several oversize masks). A mix of poor theater and Purim pageant, it’s a wry mediation on Jewish identity delivered in the trappings of a children’s production in a synagogue basement. 

Purim commemorates the story of Esther, and is the most festive of Jewish holidays—a time of Biblically mandated “feasting and merrymaking” and drinking and noise, a Hebraic Halloween when children in Jewish schools dress up as figures from the ancient narrative. Yet even this lighthearted celebration is overshadowed by a familiar menace: the threat of total Jewish extermination. The setting in this case is ancient Persia, where the evil royal advisor Haman plots to kill every Jew in the land; only the eventual intervention of Queen Esther—who, unbeknownst to nearly all, is Jewish herself—prevents the annihilation of her people. 

In Target Margin’s telling, devised collectively by the troupe under the organizing eye of director David Herskovits, the legend of Esther—lightly annotated in the manner of a modern intellectual Passover haggadah—serves as the baseline for an exploration of Jewish subterfuge and survival. Folktales and jokes are sprinkled like poppy seeds throughout the show, which also includes samplings of antisemitic texts (from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion through online conspiracy theories) and excerpts from Number Our Days, anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff’s survey of elderly American Jews in 1970s, when the Holocaust was very much in living memory.  

Remember This Trick | Photograph: Courtesy Justin J Wee

“In time it became clear that storytelling was a passion among these people, absolutely central to their culture,” Meyerhoff observes. So, Remember This Trick suggests, is a certain kind of practical magic: not just a belief in hidden supernatural forces of good, but a proficiency in self-protective gestures of camouflage amid an often hostile gentile world—disappearing acts employed to fend off actual disappearance. Reflecting what it describes as a “strong but ambivalent relationship to being a Jew,” the show has complicated feelings about this aspect of Jewishness, which can lead to questionable self-erasure and self-deprecation—the cast performs Irving Berlin’s 1915 comedy song “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars,” about an old man whose deathbed wish is to collect a loan from a business associate—and might also dovetail with antisemitic tropes of Jewish secrecy and subversiveness.

At least, that’s what I left the Doxsee thinking about. Remember This Trick, which is just over an hour long, leaves a lot to the spectator’s interpretation; this elliptical, suggestive collection of texts and stories seems more interested in questions than answers, which is consistent with its strain of Jewish retrospection. The moment-to-moment clarity of the staging and the performances—by Danny Bryck, Zoë Geltman, Sarah Suzuki, Mari Vial-Golden and, as Esther, the soulful Yehuda L. Hyman (of the dance-theater company Mystical Feet)—keep the show’s threads distinct but lets audience decide what the tapestry depicts. A straightforward telling of the Purim story this is not, but as Purim approaches, it offers an interesting alternative to the whole megillah. 

Remember This Trick. Target Margin Theater (Off Broadway). Created by David Heskovits and Target Margin Theater. Directed by Herskovits. With Danny Bryck, Zoë Geltman, Yehuda L. Hyman, Sarah Suzuki, Mari Vial-Golden. Running time: 1hr 5mins. No intermission. 

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Remember This Trick | Photograph: Courtesy Justin J Wee

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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