Elise Esther Hearst on the return season of YENTL

After a triumphant debut in 2022, garnering wide acclaim, four Green Room Awards and numerous five-star reviews—Malthouse is proud to present a return season of Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s Yentl. This new stage adaptation of Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s iconic short story is the first since the 1975 Broadway play and Barbra Streisand’s iconic 1983 musical film.

Yentl is the journey of a young woman who defies the Jewish orthodox tradition that forbids females from studying religious scripture. When her father dies, Yentl emancipates herself by dressing in male guise, determined to live as a man to continue her studies. Religion, gender, sexual politics, and traditional Yiddish culture collide as Yentl finds her truth through faith and love.

Elise Esther Hearst

Directed by Gary Abrahams and co-written by Gary Abrahams, Elise Esther Hearst, and Galit Klas, and starring Amy Hack, Nicholas Jaquinot, Genevieve Kingsford, and Evelyn Krape, Yentl is an ode to the feminist undertones and queer subtext of the original story and an invitation to celebrate the beauty of Yiddish culture.

Elise Esther Hearst is an award-winning Melbourne-based playwright and published author, working and living on Boon Wurrung country. She studied Creative Arts at Melbourne University and playwriting at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and was a resident writer with the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2019-2020. Her work has appeared at various theatres around Australia, including A Very Jewish Christmas Carol (Melbourne Theatre Company) Yentl, the winner of Green Room Award for Outstanding Writing 2023 (Arts Centre Melbourne), The Mesh (Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre), The Sea Project, shortlisted for the Griffin Award (Griffin Theatre) and Bright World (Theatre Works). Elise’s debut novel, One Day We’re All Going to Die was published in September 2023 by HQ Fiction, Harper Collins Australia. Elise is currently working on her second novel, due to be published in 2025.

Can you tell me a bit about your background with theatre?

Elise: I have had a love for theatre ever since my Mum took me to my first play in primary school. Most of my youth was spent acting, but it wasn’t till I went to uni that I start writing for theatre. I spent a couple of years in London and got some great training at the Royal Court, and since moving back to Melbourne have been writing for theatre (and sometimes performing too).

What makes the story of Yentl so universal?

Elise: It is amazing to me how a character set in a Jewish Shtetl of the past can resonate with such a wide audience, but it is the universality of the characters, their quandaries and struggles with the most essential human questions that draws people in. The original short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy was written by Isaac Bashevis-Singer in 1963, but the themes and subject matter about identity, gender roles, love and sexuality couldn’t be more relevant today.

How have you adapted the original Bashevis-Singer text for the stage?

Elise: We tell the story from the perspective of the three central characters — who form a love triangle — Yentl, Avigdor and Hodes. We introduced a fourth character played by the wonderful Evelyn Krape —the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) — a kind of narrator who articulates Yentl’s deepest yearnings and darkest desires.

How has Kadimah Yiddish Theatre influenced the production?

Elise: A good portion of this play is performed in Yiddish (with surtitles), thanks to the extensive knowledge and coaching provided by the team at Kadimah. Thanks to Kadimah, a new and diverse audience will have the opportunity and the immense pleasure of hearing the linguistic gymnastics and expressions which are so unique to the Yiddish language.

Will this season be different from your previous run?

Elise: The show will be very similar to the show at the Arts Centre in 2022, with all original cast remaining except for the character of Yentl, who will now be played by Amy Hack.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Elise: The show is transformative. You will be transported to another time and place through language and the strangeness of the world, and you will be drawn into the lives of three young people who seek out happiness, fairness and justice. Expect to see demons and dybbuks and hear old folk tales. And discover Yentl — who tries to find their place in a hostile world full of rules and binaries, ultimately shattering what we know to be true while attempting to forge a new path forward.

Yentl opens at the Malthouse Theatre on February 29th.

For tickets and more information, visit the Malthouse Theatre website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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