The Marriage Contract
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
March 22, 2008
The Marriage Contract (Di Ksube) is a revival of the 1953 musical comedy by Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon. It is presented in Yiddish, with easily readable English and Russian supertitles, and performed by the talented and dedicated members of the National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene. This was one of the longest running hits on the Israeli stage, and it's easy to see why.
This is a comedy about a Elimylekh and Shifre Borozovski, who, right before their own daughter Ayala's wedding to a prudish statistician, discover they never had a marriage contract. This leads to Eli casually asking Shifre if she will marry him again, to which she replies, "I'll think about it."
Now, if this entire play had just been about the hilarity of a couple playing games with each other, the husband toying with the affections of a sexy neighbor (played by the very funny Mena Levit), and the daughter meeting a fellow who might lure her away from her betrothed, that would have been enough. But there's more to it than the farcical humor: What unfolds is a story about what happens when new love becomes old love, and old love becomes sometimes taking someone for granted.
The play opens with Shifre, Ayala, and Yafa (the neighbor) dancing in wedding dresses and singing to male mannequins about how men used to treat women well but things have changed, including lines such as "Enough talk, you've become windbags / We'll teach you a thing or two." And as Yafa later says to Shifre in this funny line, "Men are all the same. At first they give you the world on a plate. Twenty years later, you should get lost. And give back the plate."
We see the home life of Eli, Shifre, and Ayala and realize that Eli is a boorish man who will quarrel if his wife hasn't supplied enough seltzer. So it's not such a sad moment when Shifre does not instantly accept his offer of marriage once the absence of a contract is revealed. Shifre says, "I haven't turned down your proposal. I'm considering it." "Why? What haven't I done for you? What haven't I gotten for you?" "Flowers, for a start?" Eli asks, "Flowers?" He then digs in his pocket, gets out a bill and says, "Here, here's money: Go buy flowers."
It is Eli who has the most growing to do in this piece, as he examines himself and the world in a tender song: "Who can understand what happened / A whole world gone by / It was just her and me / Together in that field."
There is a warmth to this show, as there is with other Folksbiene productions I have seen. The direction, by Motl Didner, keeps things accessible, without turning it grand or shticky. Even a line such as "You can be set free from jail. But not from family life" is said with more of a shoulder-shrug. Oftentimes musicals can have a larger-than-life quality, which this show does not. Rather, it's a story that invites us into the world of a family in a way that is funny, real, and well worth watching.