Written by Sholem Aleichem
Directed by Allen Lewis Rickman
If you only know Tevye the Milkman as the protagonist of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, I urge to you pay a bazukhn to the Playroom Theater, where Sholom Aleichem’s famed Everymensch speaks with unadorned candor in the cadences and idioms of his native tongue.
Using minimal props and costumes, a versatile three-person ensemble (Shane Baker, Allen Lewis Rickman, and Yelena Shmulenson) recreates the joys and vicissitudes of Jewish life in late 19th Century Russia. Vignettes and monologues featuring Tevye, his no-nonsense wife Golde, and their strong-willed daughters form the spine of the show, but there are many other gems – including a bittersweet lullaby – from the Sholom Aleichem catalogue. Fittingly, in the more dramatic scenes, English translations are projected on a screen above the action, so as not to interfere with the rising tension and naturalistic flow of the story. In the comedic sketches, though, Rickman serves as a go-between, delivering expertly timed English renditions of Baker and Shmulenson’s Yiddish rhubarbs: a kind of bilingual one-two punch that serves the material beautifully.
The true star of the show, though, is the mame-loshn itself. Americans are accustomed to the satisfyingly onomatopoeic zing of words like schmear and chutzpah. But the music of Yiddish has a delicate side too. It is equally adept at expressing lyrical, often mournful aspects of human experience. Sholom Aleichem sought to capture it all, knowing full well that the world he was recording was vanishing as he wrote. In one of the evening’s most poignant scenes, Tevye reveals that he knows it, too. Though he has always gotten along with his gentile neighbors, he knows that antisemitism is never far from the surface. And when the political tide turns, the Dairyman finds himself bidding farewell to the hardscrabble but decent life he and his family have known for generations.
Thankfully, the stories remain, and TEVYE SERVED RAW serves as living proof that Sholom Aleichem deserves a place on the shelf alongside Mark Twain, Dickens and De Maupassant. The show’s creators clearly relish the opportunity to introduce new audiences to his work while making sure existing fans also walk away tsufridn.
TEVYE SERVED RAW continues through August 14, 2018 at the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3483188