Shvitzing on stage: Jewish actor relishes chance to play rabbi at Foster City theater

Anthony Silk has two roles in Hillbarn Theatre’s new production of “Bermuda Avenue Triangle.” The first is his portrayal of a prudish rabbi. And the second is his role as the unofficial Jewish interpreter for the cast and crew.

“I’m the only Jewish person in the cast,” says Silk, “so I get to be the rabbi.”

Part of his rabbinical duties included coaching one of his castmates, who plays a Jewish mother.

Mother-daughter pairs (from left) Rita (Heather Galli) and Tess (Monica Cappuccini), with Fannie (Melody Cole) and Angela (Kathleen Gabriel) are featured in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Bermuda Avenue Triangle.”

 “The actress who plays our Jewish woman is not Jewish,” Silk adds. “One of her lines [has the word] ‘shvitzing.’ She would say it ‘sha-vitzing.’ ”

That’s when the 45-year-old Sunnyvale resident stepped in to help his fellow thespian nail the oomph in that Yiddish term for “sweating.”

That wasn’t Silk’s only Yiddishe mission since joining the cast of the play, which runs Thursday, Jan. 21 through Feb. 7 at the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City. He has a few lines in the Mamaloshen, and for those he wasn’t sure about he called his mother for advice.

“My mother is the Yiddish speaker,” Silk says. “I called her up and asked what does this mean. We actually found a mistake in the text.”

Anthony Silk

Silk’s character, the rabbi, is in the very first scene, welcoming a Jewish widow and a feisty Irish matron to their new Florida condo (their daughters dump them there, and the two matrons end up competing for the affections of a middle-aged lothario).

The rabbi has the unenviable task of seeking to evict the odd couple mothers once he discovers there’s some alter kocker hanky-panky going on between the two woman and their paramour — the eponymous Bermuda Avenue triangle.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor, the play opened on Broadway in 1997. It was a follow-up to the couple’s hit show, “Lovers and Other Strangers,” only it did not fare as well with the critics.

In a wicked pan, the New York Times called it “boorish and antique in its sensibility.” But that was a long time ago. The cast and director of the Hillbarn production couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s kind of borscht belt humor,” Silk says, “and plays more on stereotypes: the older Jewish woman who doesn’t want to take off the coat when it’s 95 degrees. What’s nice about it, the women go through this transformation as the play goes on, and they lose their stereotypes.”

Director Ron Lopez says the he fell in love with the characters as soon as he read the play. “You have your Jewish mother guilt and your Irish Catholic mother guilt,” he notes. “Irish Catholics can give out guilt, too.”

A native of Redwood City, Lopez studied theater at the Boston Conservatory, and worked all over the country before returning to Northern California. A stint at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center gave him enough Judaism-by-osmosis to plunge into “Bermuda Avenue Triangle.”

Beyond the accents, he says one of the trickiest aspects in staging the play is in portraying the characters’ inherent sexuality, even if it mostly occurs among people who are in their golden years.

“You could get pretty raunchy physically if you wanted to,” says the director. “I tried to get more creative with that.  I would say it’s PG-13.”

Because the 68-year-old Hillbarn is a community theater, Lopez’s actors for this new production come right out of the community. By day, Silk teaches multivariable calculus at the Harker School in San Jose. But the Philadelphia native has been acting in community theater for years.

Like the time he was cast as Jesus in a local production of “Godspell” while he was living in Maryland.

“At the end of the day I said to [the director], ‘I’m not really sure how I should be doing this,’ ” he said. “She said to me, ‘Do you have a Bible at home? I want you to go home and read Matthew.’ I said, ‘My Bible doesn’t go up that high.’”


“Bermuda Avenue Triangle”
runs Thursday, Jan. 21 to Feb. 7 at the Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. $30. Information: (650) 349-6411 or www.hillbarntheatre.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.