Stuart Richman is one of the founders of the original Everyman rep. This one man show, based on the life and stories of Nobel Prize-winning Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, was first scheduled for this time last year but had to be postponed.
Blurring fact and fiction, it is set in 1978 as Singer awaits a taxi to start his journey to Stockholm to claim said literature plaudit, and regales the intimate audience with tales from his childhood as he packs and prepares.
It is a delightful performance from Richman, so complete its hard to imagine him speaking in anything other than a Polish accent offstage; so all-encompassing one quite feels like joining him on stage for tea and bagels to continue the conversation. It is inviting, friendly, and the dialogue is peppered with deliciously exotic Yiddish vernacular (everything gets more points for throwing in the word meshuggener if you ask me).
The play is also an interesting contrast to the lively, youth-centric and in-your-face spirit of Melody Loses Her Mojo, which can occasionally be heard straining through to the studio, albeit not as much as expected and not providing a distraction. Slow, steady and somewhat deliberately meandering and set in the twilight years of a successful life, rather than grabbing the audience’s attention it requires an investment and an attention from viewers to take it in as it gently reveals itself. It is at once both a masterclass in performance and storytelling as much as it is like an intimate chat with an older family member – as such, with the best will in the world sometimes it’s hard to keep from zoning out.
In A Day of Pleasure, Singer flits from tale to tale of his life in Warsaw in the run up to the First World War (readers will recognise these from the memoir of the same name). While most are delivered like parables, the most interesting is the final story in which he tries to track down an old childhood friend before leaving for the US as a grown man. Actually, perhaps it does complement Melody more than you’d first assume, as Singer clawed his way out of unspeakable poverty in Europe to become one of America’s great writers – proof a tough start in life need not define you.
Anna Gooch’s set is a warm, cluttered flat, lived in and serviceable. If A Day of Pleasure doesn’t immediately sink in , in its own way its humanity and tender portrayal of age and ageing gives something to ponder and cherish after you’ve left the theatre.