Monday, December 15, 2008

Gimpel Tam


Adapted from the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story and directed by Moshe Yassur. Music by Radu Captari. The National Yiddish Theatre (Folksbiene). (CLOSED)

Critics warmly welcome this Yiddish-theater adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story about a holy fool who accepts the abuse of his village with a beatific, and ultimately instructive, equanimity and good faith. Though a few reviews found it overlong, most praised its direction, performances, and above all its music, by Romanian composer Radu Captari. Audiences seeking a holiday alternative could do worse, though they may be surprised by the piece's un-cuddly moral.

New York Theatre Scene A
(Irene Backalenick) Credit goes, first of all, to Moshe Yassur, a Romanian Jew who adapted the tale and also directs it...Under Yassur’s impeccable direction, this American production emerges triumphant. The fine cast is topped by the most endearing Adam Shapiro (as Gimpel), the dynamic, sexy Daniella Rabbani as Elke, and a first-rate supporting cast (too numerous to single out). Radu Captari’s music and lyrics are pleasing and appropriate, and shine forth under the musical direction of Folksbiene’s artistic director Zalmen Mlotek.

New York Post A
(Frank Scheck) What makes the piece so emotionally resonant is that it doesn't belittle its hapless hero, but celebrates his indomitable faith in the essential goodness of people. With a wonderful score by Romanian composer Radu Captari - expertly performed by an onstage four-piece klezmer band - "Gimpel Tam" is a simple but haunting musical that's perfectly suited to this venerable theatrical institution.

The New York Times A
(Lawrence Van Gelder) This engaging and lively 95-minute intermissionless entertainment, notable for its outstanding klezmer band, some splendid singing and an admirable performance by Adam Shapiro
With the rotund, shambling Mr. Shapiro at the story’s wise heart, “Gimpel Tam,” first staged last year at the Jewish State Theater in Bucharest, Romania, remains faithful to the brilliant Singer story. In its musical version it offers tunes that range from the hand-clapping to the heart tugging; a modicum of dance; a bit of comedy that exploits the gifts of Sheila Rubell as Rivke-Rokhl, one of the village women.

Backstage A-
(Gwen Orel) These are not Sholom Aleichem's lovable peasants but lustful, sometimes cruel people, like those you encounter in Singer's postwar novella Enemies: A Love Story. Adding music to this dark story was smart, and Radu Captari's original tunes, particularly "Di Levone Shaynt," feel like Yiddish standards and mix melancholy with joy. The Folksbiene Band, a costumed four-piece klezmer group, is terrific...The supernatural and folk elements — there are ghosts as well as the devil—are supported by Yassur's nicely presentational staging, which pulls depths from the energetic cast of 13...An intermission would help, though. Despite bursts of joy, this is not light material and it needs a pause.

CurtainUp B+
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...Adam Shapiro is an engaging and believable Gimpel with a rich voice and warm personality that makes a virtue of simple-mindedness...You don't have to understand Yiddish, have an interest in Yiddishkeit or even be Jewish to enjoy Gimpel Tam. B
(Martin Denton) As Gimpel Tam progresses the joyfulness of its musical numbers dwindles. But many of Captari's songs are delightful, and they feel authentic as performed by the Folksbiene's four-piece band—clarinet, violin, accordian, and bass—under the direction of Zalmen Mlotek. Many of the best numbers are assigned to a quartet of Gimpel's fellow villagers, four men who taunt and tease our hero and then remind us that life is short and hard...Adam Shapiro and Daniella Rabbani play Gimpel and Elke, and their portrayals are limited by the simplistic nature of their roles...The production values are modest but well-realized, especially Roger Hanna's simple but versatile set. The pace sometimes feels a little sluggish, though, under Yassur's direction. The production is performed entirely in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles projected above the action on stage.

New York Observer B
(John Heilpern) It’s a lovely, modest production (if a shade long), and it takes us to the heart of a truly folkloric theater. Radu Captari composed the vibrant score performed by four excellent onstage musicians, and I particularly admired Daniella Rabbani’s sympathetic, utterly alive performance as the slutty wife, Elke.

NY Theater Scene A 13; NY Post A 13; NY Times A 13; Backstage A- 12; CurtainUp B+ 11; B 10; NY Observer B 10; TOTAL: 82/7=11.71 (A-)

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