ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
The future of Jews and Yiddish did not look bright. But the short story, the tale of a simple man who is betrayed by an unfaithful wife and scorned by the community, is both sad and hopeful. Gimpel, we are led to believe, will have a better time in heaven than he did on earth.
Singer clearly either knew or intuited that the root of the English word "silly" is the German "selig," or sacred. In this gentle fable, it is the kind, generous and forgiving fool who exhibits the spiritual qualities that could, if given the chance, make this world a better place. In fact, although Saul Bellow, in his well-known translation, renders "tam" as "fool," Moshe Yassur, director and adaptor of The National Yiddish Theatre, Folksbeine's dramatization of the story, maintains that "tam" in Hebrew and Yiddish actually means "simple, naïve and sometimes even perfect, whole. . ." It is quite evident that Yassur had this in mind when directing Gimpel Tam.
The Folksbiene production incorporates a score by the young Romanian composer, Radu Captari. The songs, mostly in the traditional Klezmer minor key, are sentimental, sad and wise. Their titles tell it all: "No One Has All Virtues,""If the Rambam Says It's Kosher," "As the Sun Sets."
Adam Shapiro is an engaging and believable Gimpel with a rich voice and warm personality that makes a virtue of simple-mindedness. Elke, the sluttish young woman who is both his downfall and his salvation, is played by the feisty Daniella Rabbani, "a proud graduate of the Stella Adler Studio/NYU Tisch." Gimpel Tam; marks Rabbani's off Broadway debut, and it is indeed an auspicious beginning.
Gimpel repeatedly resists the temptation to abandon his wife and the children she has with various lovers. He even refuses to be enticed by the devil into poisoning his wife and the entire community. His only reward is more infidelity and Elke's blatant lies and counter-accusations.
Harry Peerce is notable as the conniving shadkhn (matchmaker), who makes the shady arrangements for Gimpel's marriage to the very pregnant Elke. And I.W. "Itzy" Firestone ably takes over the two principal good-guy parts, Gimpel's beloved Zeyde (grandfather) and the wise and exceedingly flexible Rebbe.
Roger Hanna's set is minimal but effective. A bed, a chair, a baker's oven in which Gimpel (who has become a baker on the advice of his Zeyde) makes the challah he offers Elke to win her hand, all indicate the poverty of many European Jews. The line of tombstone at the back of the stage is both a somber foreshadowing and a reminder of life's brevity and the tragedy that often visited Jews in European villages.
With dwindling numbers of Yiddish speakers but growing numbers of people interested in Yiddish and Yiddish themes, Folksbiene keeps afloat with the aid of supertitles and, in some cases, work that incorporates large blocks of English. But Folksbiene is more than an institution dedicated to preserving the past. Productions such as Gimpel Tam are worthy artistic endeavor in their own right.
You don't have to understand Yiddish, have an interest in Yiddishkeit or even be Jewish to enjoy Gimpel Tam. All you need is a willingness to explore the good and evil that are forever competing with each other to take possession of the human soul, in a ale filled with humor and sorrow.