The play braids together the annals of the radical choreographers of the 1930’s and 40’s, texts and songs from Woody Guthrie, and first-person stories of a New York City Jewish left-wing childhood in the 1960’s and 70’s. Using loose-limbed storytelling, visual projections and animation, modern dance, and live music, the play offers a personal and impassioned look at the culture and history of the American Jewish radical left-wing community, at a time when that legacy is in danger of passing into obscurity.
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“David Schechter’s lively direction…utilizes visual projections with animation, live music, song and dance to bring these stories to life. Yalowitz/s younger self is played by David Kremenitzer with energy and gusto…. Eleanor Reissa gives a delightful performance as Sylvie, a character inspired by the writings of various members of the New Dance Group …Reissa transforms with ease from playing an older Sylvie, hunched over her shopping cart… to a vivacious and impassioned dance teacher and choreographer with a lovely voice and incredible facility with [Yiddish] … Brian Gunter portrays Woody Guthrie and gives a subtle yet graceful performance…East Towards Home jumps back and forth between character perspectives, generations and anecdotes… I appreciated learning about the history of New York’s Jewish Left Wing Community through personal accounts and couldn’t have been more touched to see its effect on those who were alive to have lived this history, as measured by those seated right beside me”. – New York Theater Now
“Billy Yalowitz is a young man caught between generations. In “East Towards Home,” his one-act musical drama, the fictional Billy is a Jewish New Yorker, a self-described red-diaper baby. When…a vibrant Eleanor Reissa speaks…this production…comes alive. She throws off her cheap beret and shapeless coat and begins to talk about her life — tagging along at International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union demonstrations with her mother in 1909, honoring Lenin’s death, dancing with Martha Graham’s company, suffering through the 1950s blacklist. As young Billy, David Kremenitzer is appealingly earnest … Billy sets out to hitchhike in the footsteps of his hero Woody Guthrie (Brian Gunter), only to find that he has always been surrounded by heroes on the “New York island” Guthrie sang about in “This Land Is Your Land.” Although present-day Billy (the playwright as himself) is around to comment on his younger self’s journey, it is the Guthrie character who supplies the script’s nuggets of homespun wisdom like “Every single human being is born into this world with a brand-new hoping machine.” … The 20th-century labor movement had some killer songs.” – The New York Times
“A voyage through Jewish time and space, with a definite tilt to the left, is laid out before the audience in Billy Yalowitz’s musical play East Towards Home… Director David Schechter moves his four actors from early in the 20th century to the future, and from New York City to Oklahoma and back again….The play is imaginatively presented on a small stage by four very talented actors through lovely song and dance, and clever animation. Guthrie’s songs and dialogue are all from his own records, musical and written. He is faithfully evoked on stage by Brian Gunter, ..The old left is represented by Sylvie, an old Jewish woman who often expresses herself in Yiddish and who might have been one of the progressive dancers Guthrie worked with in the 1940s. She is played at various ages in different periods by the very appealing Eleanor Reissa, …. The playwright’s younger self is passionately portrayed by David Kremenitzer… Billy Yalowitz authentically plays his older self as narrator of the play. …The play speaks to those who are looking at both issues of Jewish identity and assimilation, and universalism vs. particularism on the left..….If you cannot see it during its run at the Theater for the New City, look for its presentation soon somewhere nearby. It tells the story of an important segment of the Jewish people, with deep roots and a meaningful future.” – Jewish Link of Bergen County
From left: Brian Gunter as Woody, Eleanor Reissa as Sylvie
Funding generously provided by: Puffin Foundation; BMI/Woody Guthrie Archives Fellowship; Pew Charitable Trusts, Heritage Philadelphia Program; National Museum of American Jewish History; Feinstein Center for American Jewish History; Vice Provost for the Arts, Temple University.