PBS's 'Yiddish' speaks to heart, sings to soul

April 05, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Think of it as "thirtysomething" doubled. The characters are twice as old. The material is twice as good.

"Yiddish," tonight's installment of PBS' "American Playhouse" at 9 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), is about a married man and a married woman, both in their late 60s, who fall in love with each other.

Intellectually, the feelings, the affair and the relationship seem to go against all odds. But it all makes perfect sense to the heart, when the man, Velvil Finkelstein (Harold Gould), says to the woman, Genendel Goldfarb (Tresa Hughes), "Do you want to be in love one more time before you die?" The hour-long play is full of moments and lines like that.

"Yiddish" is one part of a trilogy, called "The Sunset Gang," which is airing tonight and the next two Fridays on "American Playhouse." The three hours of TV were adapted by playwright Ronald Ribman from short stories by Warren Adler. All are set in a Florida retirement community, Sunset Village.

In tonight's hour, Finkelstein and Goldfarb meet in a Yiddish club in Sunset Village. They are rehearsing for a Yiddish-language play. He is unhappily married to Mimi (Doris Roberts). She is less-unhappily married to David (Sam Gray). Neither spouse speaks or understands Yiddish.

Finkelstein tells Goldfarb that Yiddish is the "first language of my heart." As he becomes reacquainted with the language, stirrings of other passions from his youth are felt. Their courtship is carried on in Yiddish with subtitles for viewers. It is so lyrical and moving that the subtitles are almost unnecessary.

"Yiddish" does speak to the heart. But it does even more than that. It sings to the soul.

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