Zien and Jennings are matched by an equally skilled company of actors. As Zunser, Ron Rifkin exudes a sad, touching nobility. Daniel Oreskes brings humor and vibrant life, both physical and emotional, to the role of poet Moishe Bretsky, a big man with big appetites and a defiant love for the Yiddish language.
And Noah Robbins movingly conveys both the terror and pride of a young man, a boy really, who finds himself incarcerated with the great writers he so admires. His character, Pinchas Pelovits, is horrified to be in prison and facing possible death, but thrilled to be counted among his heroes.
After all, Pelovits reveals to his bewildered cellmates, he has written much — novel after novel, in fact, day after day, in his room — but published absolutely nothing. His name is unknown. So how did he get there? Twenty-six well-known writers have been rounded up, but Pelovits is the 27th (hence the play's title.) Why?
That's the mystery that drives the play, and it's a welcome one, dramatically speaking; there doesn't seem to be too much mystery, after all, about the probable fate of a cell full of Jews rounded up by Stalin's secret police.
Even more welcome is the very existence of a play that teaches or reminds audiences — younger ones, too, we can hope — about some of the horrors of the 20th century. (The play refers to real events). And Englander reminds us, too, of something most of us surely take for granted: the freedom to create, or write, well or badly, in whatever language we please.
"No more than your language?" responds Zunser, to Korinsky's claim that his Judaism is "no more" than that.
"Who are we without Yiddish?"