By William Wolf


Callling all Jews, and non-Jews too. Three talented people acting in Yiddish (and a “bisl” English) are providing an entertaining delve into stories by the celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, some of which inspired “Fiddler on the Roof.” Keeping faith with the master, there is a combination of the humorous and the serious in the chosen stories depicting life for Jews in Russian “shtetls.”

Non-Yiddish speaking folk need not worry. There are English titles projected, and some translations are verbal, often delivered hilariously. The trio consists of Shane Baler, Yelena Shmulenson and Allen Lewis Rickman. The writings by Sholem Aleichem were adapted and translated by Rickman and Baker, with Rickman directing. The intimate show is being presented by the Congress for Jewish Culture, i.a.w. Benjamin Feldman and Khobzey Inbud, L.L.C.

The cast is extremely versatile. Rickman is very poignant as Tevye facing the prospect of having to argue with a priest to gain access to his daughter, who is being confined while converting to marry her non-Jewish boyfriend. He also tugs at heartstrings when ordered to leave town.

But he can also be uproariously funny in an encounter on a train. Likewise, Yelena Shmulenson, who handles the various women’s roles in the stories, is a wonderful actress/comedienne. In the show‘s encore she has the task of heaping a rat-a-tat barrage of Yiddish insults while Baker keeps up a furious pace of translations in addition to those posted. It doesn’t seem possible that any insults are left out, and for those who understand and savor Yiddish the sketch has special appeal.

Baker is deft at playing a variety of parts requiring him to assume different garb and attitudes. He is kind of the show’s anchor, and can be pleasingly funny in the positions he assumes, as well as nasty when playing the Russian orthodox priest rebuffing Tevye.

The Playroom Theater in which the show is simply mounted is compact, and that makes for audiences feeling intimately connected with the very likable cast. The performances come across as a salute to the preservation of Yiddish, as well as further evidence of how creative Sholem Aleichem was in capturing a way of life with its pleasures and perils. The production is enhanced by Alex Ryaboy’s original music. At the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street. Phone: 1-800-838-3006.


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