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Theater Review an International Treasure

March 31, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

In an otherwise dismal and undistinguished theatre season in New York, the sparking arrival of the Habimah National Theater of Israel has suddenly brought a radiance that lingers in our hearts. We may discover alternatives for the oil we import from the Mid-East, but there is no substitute for the energy generated by the trio of Shmuels now at the Town Hall in “Die Kleine Mentchalach” (“The Little Folk”) derived from tales by Sholem Aleichem.

The dynamoes of acting are Shmuel Atzmon, Shmuel Segal, and Shmuel Rudenski, luminaries of the Israeli stage. They bring to life the many and various characters of the legendary Kasrilivka. And, if you don’t know about Kasrilivka–where have you been.

It’s the same shtetl wherein Sholem Aleichem created characters and situations that showed us the joys and frustrations of all mankind. A sort of (Sholem Aleichem should excuse me for using such a fancy word) microcosm where love, sorrow, above all “parnusse” is everyone’s daily concern.

Each nation, each part of the world celebrates some national treasure; Sholem Aleichem is an international, a multi-racial, an universal treasure whose delightful tales are an inexhaustable delight.

(A word of caution; despite the publicity release by an over-zealous public relations man, that the presentation is “with an English narration, ” the entire production is completely and only in Yiddish.)


The performance by the highly talented trio starts with an hilarious yet touching description of Kasrilivka. I was reminded of Emlyn Williams reading from Dickens’ “Dombey & Sons, ” for both Dickens and Sholem Aleichem cushioned their satire with an abiding affection for the lowliest to the most elevated of their characters.

Sholem Aleichem even has Rothchild come to Kasrilivka, “for no rich man ever died there.” Included are the dramatizations of half dozen Sholem Aleichem stories wherein the three Shmuels enact, 500000000 lovingly and convincingly, roles both males and female, from the shrewish and determined wife of an indifferent restaurant owner who is determined to starve or drive mad a lone patron, to the pathos of the ancient Reb Dudi, a vagrant who becomes King David of Israel for a day on Simcha Torah until he is thrown into jail by an indifferent and insensitive minion of the Czar.

The versatility and perfect personifications of the actors are absolutely breathtaking–and I couldn’t catch my breath because I laughed all through the program. Thus far, the Yiddish theater in New York has by far outclassed the Broadway fare.

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