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A CurtainUp Review
Teyve Served Raw
Garnished with Jews

Once upon a time there was a nice Russian Jewish boy named Sholem Aleichem who liked to write. He had to write as he was terrible at everything else. And like all great writers, he specialized. Faulkner wrote about the South, Thomas Mann wrote about intellectuals. Well, Sholem Aleichem wrote about plain old everyday Jews.—¬†Yelena
Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman and Shane Baker (Photos: Jonathan Smith)
For most of us Sholom Aleichem calls to mind the lovable characters of the Musical, Fiddler on the Roof: Tevye, the milkman, his wife Golde and their three daughters. But, in fact, the Yiddish writer was much more.

Sholem Aleichem's stories are filled with the ambiguity, absurdity and ambivalence that filled the lives of poor Jews living under adverse circumstances. Often his stories have unhappy endings. Sometimes, like troubles, they never end. Most of this is made abundantly clear in Tevye Served Raw directed by Allen Lewis Rickman, as adapted and translated by Rickman and Shane Baker.

Tevye Served Raw presents five short plays and one song. Sholem Aleichem himself makes an appearance. Three actors— Baker, Rickman and Yelena Shmulenson — play all the roles. On a bare stage, these actors bring their characters to life, with little to aid them but their own talent. They speak in Yiddish and in English. Occasionally projections provide translations.

"Strange Jews on a Train" is about two Russian Jews, one a Galitsyaner (considered uneducated and emotional by other Jews), who, with the aid of a translator, talk about a certain town where "everybody goes around all day talking about everybody else."

"Tevye and Khave" and "Father Alexi" tell the original story of the daughter who marries a gentile. In the first story, Tevye debates his daughter, in the second a local cleric. He wins neither argument. "Get Thee Gone" gives Tevye and his family a much sadder future than the musical.

The last play is the only horror story Sholem Aleichem ever wrote. Told by the author himself it is an autobiographical tale involving a stepmother and a list of her curses that are read by the author with the aid of an audience member. There's much more humor than horror in the telling.

Fiddler On the Roof had a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Joseph Stein. It was produced by Harold Prince and choreographed by Jerome Robbins— all Jewish, but Jews who could observe or not observe their faith safely in America. Sholem Aleichem's characters did not have such luxury. Nor did he for that matter. After witnessing a pogrom that swept through southern Russia in 1914, he fled Kiev and came to New York with his family. Seeing Tevye Served Raw brings us back to the real Tevye, the one Sholem Aleichem created before nostalgia and security softened his edges.

>Editor's Note: Paulanne also reviewed the fine new revival of Fiddler On the Roof in Yiddish; to read it go here.

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Tevye Served Raw
From the writings of Sholem Aleichem
As adopted and translated by Allen Lewis Rickman and Shane Baker
Directed by Allen Lewis Rickman
Cast: Shane Baker, Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman
Original Music: Alex Ryaboy
Lighting: Joan Racho-Jansen
Costumes: George Spelvin
Graphic Design: Kenny Funk
Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission
The Playroom Theater 151 W. 46th Street
From 7/05/18; opening 7/17/18; closing 10/03/18
Tickets: $38
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 12, 2018

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