In 'The Golem,' the monster runs amok, the production dawdles; The Golem Play by H. Leivick. Translated from the Yiddish by J. C. Augenlight. Directed by Richard Foreman.

The copious program notes for ''The Golem,'' at the Delacorte Theater, in Central Park, describe H. Leivick's 1921 mythic fantasy as ''a dramatic poem in eight scenes.'' It is also a latter-day look at a medieval legend, a predecessor of science-fiction tales about laboratory monsters, and a parable depicting the perils of man-made power unleashed.

Regarding historical sources, the program states: ''The legend of the Golem arose as a result of persecutions the Jews suffered because of the spread of ... terrible rumors (that) the Jews murdered Christian babies for the Passover feast in order to drink their blood with the Passover matzoh.'' According to legend, in the 16th century Rabbi Loewe of Prague created the Golem to secure the evidence that would refute these false accusations and thus frustrate attempts by certain Christians to arouse the masses against Jews.

Richard Foreman's staging features strong performances in the central roles of the Rebbi (F. Murray Abraham) and the Golem (Randy Quaid). Mr. Abraham's Rebbi begins as a sternly authoritarian figure who must eventually confront the catastrophe he has brought about. When the distraught Golem runs amok and strikes out at the Jews, the Rebbi returns his rejected creation to the earth from which it was made. Mr. Quaid invests the man-made monster with an initial subservience that appears conditioned for the Rebbi's purpose. But the creature develops inchoate yearnings that ultimately drive the Golem to rebel against its fashioner. Mr. Quaid finally endows the hulking automaton with a kind of pathos that recalls moments from Boris Karloff's portrayal of Frankenstein's monster.

Although ''The Golem'' achieves some stirring highs in its second half, a good deal of this New York Shakespeare Festival production tends to be slow and heavy going. The ritual-theatrical approach and the choreographed traffic of beggars, benign spirits, and hobgoblins fill the stage with energy and add to the pictorial features of the production. But whether these Foremanesque flourishes always serve the ''dramatic poem'' is another matter. The program synopsis of individual scenes helps the spectator understand what is going on. But should such a synopsis be necessary?

The populous and capable Delacorte cast includes Joseph Wiseman as the evil High Priest, Bette Henritze as the Rebbi's wife, and Melody Combs as his granddaughter. Christopher McCann appears briefly as the Young Beggar, alias the Messiah, whom the Rebbi drives away - declaring that the Messiah's time has not yet come.

Mr. Foreman and Nancy Winters have devised a vaulting architectural enclosure pocketed with arched doorways, windows, and other scenic devices to facilitate crowd and visual effects. Natasha Landau's trunkfuls of costumes range from priestly robes to beggarly tatters and the fantastic garments of good and evil spirits. Pat Collins illumines the seating area as well as the stage with the glare of mostly white-on-white lighting. Stanley Silverman's pulsing score and sound effects create an ominous undertone, while suggesting what might have been the Golem's heartbeat.

With its mounting of ''The Golem,'' New York Shakespeare Festival has once more given its audiences a spectacular free show. This may or may not be a definitive production. But there would seem to be no need for a further revival in the foreseeable future.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.