At Capital Fringe, ‘True-Life Israeli Stories’ eclipses geopolitical boundaries


Noa Baum of the production "Impossible to Translate But I'll Try – True-Life Israeli Stories" at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Courtesy Noa Baum/Courtesy Noa Baum)
July 18, 2013

The Capital Fringe Festival seems particularly well suited to monologuists because they’re so portable. No sets, no big cast to block; easy in, easy out.

And storytellers are the old school of the lot, engaging in a time-honored tradition as they eschew modern trappings like PowerPoint.

For Noa Baum, storytelling is a way to extend her traditions as she spreads cultural truths that eclipse geopolitical boundaries.

Her one-woman “Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try: True-Life Israeli Stories” at the Goethe-Institut is as smoothly delivered as a bedtime story. As such, it also comes with a well-sung lullaby or two.

Her expressively told tales of growing up in Jerusalem include complaining about her name until she hears more of its history (from the book of Numbers). She recalls the innocence of her first crush, a fellow fourth-grader with a shared interest in books and secret clubs, and tells of her own troubles in romance until she meets the person everyone realizes will be her husband.

The Washington Post’s Emily Yahr discusses this year’s highly anticipated Emmy nominations, which included heavy recognition for Washington-based shows and Netflix series. (Nicki DeMarco and Emily Yahr/The Washington Post)

Baum tells these tales slowly, adding Yiddish phrases for expression that she quickly translates, dividing chapters like album cuts on a CD (available in the hall).

There are not many other considerations to theater, though. A stool, water and headset microphone are the storyteller’s only tools onstage. With no sets, special lighting or other props, she enhances the classroom or community center feel by asking that the house lights be brought up so she can better gauge the reaction of her listeners.

Still, those in a midweek audience seemed captivated by the tales and identifying with them, laughing at Yiddish punch lines before the English translation came.

With an ability to key into childhood thought and voices, she can make her stories transcend their roots. A bit more attention to their trappings would make an easier acclimation to the theater festival, though.

Catlin is a freelance writer.

Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try: True-Life Israeli Stories

by Noa Baum. At the Capital Fringe through July 28. Visit www.capfringe.org.

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