Target Margin, the experimental theater company led by artistic director David Herskovits, never takes the easier route when a twistier one presents itself. Take the title of its latest work, a translation of Peretz Hirschbein’s Yiddish play Di Puste Kretshme. Rather than supply a simple English analog for “puste,” the group has observed its complexity with an asterisk denoting: “empty, vacant abandoned; usually translated as ‘haunted.’ ”
In other words, don’t expect a mint on the pillow or much in the way of turndown service when you book in to the show, staged in Abrons Arts Center’s chocolate-box theater. That’s not to say that this isn’t a generous production, in its way, but Herskovits, a director of rather daunting intelligence, has so many ideas about the script that the narrative and its emotional tensions sometimes drop away.
Hirschbein sets his play in a shtetl on the eve of daughter Meta’s (Rachel Claire) engagement. Meta is torn between her betrothed (Susan Hyon, in an oversize suit) and her seductive cousin Itsik (Sam T. West). Then there’s the matter of that pernicious lodge across the road. Is it a haunted house or merely a derelict structure? There are so many approaches and techniques taken—the presentational performance style, the estranging make-up, the prerecorded voices, the passages in Yiddish—that it becomes very difficult to separate the normal from the supernatural or to keep the plot straight. Yet the play still seems an interesting document of a long neglected artistic movement. And at only 90 minutes, why not settle in for a short stay?