Not Dead Yet! Three shows to commemorate centenary of the death of the famous Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem

September 23, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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The Kadimah, the Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library, is presenting three shows called Sholem Aleichem: Not Dead Yet! A Tribute to the 100th Yortstayt [death centenary] of our beloved Yiddish Writer over the last weekend of October at Melbourne’s Elwood College’s Phoenix Theatre.

Shane Baker  Photo:  Jordan McAfee

Shane Baker Photo: Jordan McAfee

Sholem Aleichem, who was one the most admired and prolific of all writers in Yiddish, the thousand-year-old language of Eastern European Jews, was responsible for characters such as Tevye the Dairyman, the basis for Fiddler on the Roof.

Sholem Aleichem was as big a celebrity as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain in his day. When he died in 1916 at the age of 57, his funeral procession through the streets of New York was the biggest ever seen, attracting crowds variously estimated as being between 100,000-250,000.

The shows features vignettes from various celebrated Sholem Aleichem stories, songs and monologues with a narration created by Arnold Zable and performed by the ‘ghost’ of Sholem Aleichem. The shows will be in both Yiddish and English, with English surtitles for the parts in Yiddish.

Renowned New York Yiddish actor and director Shane Baker is coming to Australia in early October to perform in the shows and co-direct with Galit Klas. The local cast includes Alex DafnerLeon GarfinkelElisa GrayMichelle GrayFreydi MrockiHelen MizrachiHenry NusbaumJosh ReubenDoodie RingelblumHillel Ringelblum and Tamara Vasilevitsky.

Kadimah President, Renata Singer, said Sholem Aleichem was responsible for a huge oeuvre of plays, short stories, and monologues.

“Sholem Aleichem was never seen without pen and paper and his work has been translated into a huge number of languages because people love his work. And so they should. He gave voice to those who had never before been heard on the literary page.

“His best work is not sentimental or nostalgic, it’s ironic, satiric and painful. His characters grapple with the modern world: emigration to America, children rebelling, the Dreyfus trial, Rothschild-envy and travel on modern trains, albeit always in third class. Aleichem work is about that constant push and pull, the tension of tradition and modernity and how we can negotiate this path forward – and that’s why it still speaks to us today.”

“The centenary of his death is an opportunity for the Kadimah to bring his work to new audiences, audiences who may have never heard of him and who will find themselves entertained, enriched and enchanted.”

Director and actor, Shane Baker, is not Jewish and learned Yiddish as an adult after becoming enthralled with 1930s’ vaudeville-style Yiddish theatre. He’s even written and stars in his own Yiddish language version of Waiting for Godot.

“I have worked on memorial programs for Sholem Aleichem on four continents this year and I can’t wait to get to Melbourne. I have been waiting for an opportunity to help make some Yiddish theatre in Melbourne for years. It’s renowned a city of good strong Jewish roots with a rich history of Yiddish culture and theatre;” Baker said.

“You don’t have to speak Yiddish to enjoy Yiddish theatre. We’ll have translations available via surtitle and sometimes right in the dialogue. No one should be intimidated — they should come on down and have a great time laughing at these wonderful and sometimes heart-wrenching stories!”

Baker said that he has always had Sholem Aleichem material in his repertoire over the two decades he has been performing in Yiddish.

“But now that I’ve been spending so much time immersed in his writings, I’m struck by how relevant they are to our life today. He is dealing with the collision of modernity and traditional life, the great theme of late 19th-early 20th century writing but a character like Menakhem-Mendl absolutely works in the 21st century, too: a small-town naif who marries into money and heads to the big city to play the market, against his wife’s practical advice,” he said.

“Of course, it’s not too surprising that Sholem Aleichem is able to present Menakhem-Mendl with such nuance and humor, because it’s a funhouse mirror of the author’s own life, as he had lost large sums of money in the market crashes of 1890 and 1892.”

Tickets: $35-$42.

8pm Saturday 29 October, 2pm & 7pm Sunday 30 October – Phoenix Theatre, Elwood College, 101 Glen Huntly Road, Elwood 


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