Tevye Served Raw is a sweet and savory side dish to accompany the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s rousing adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Subtitled Garnished with Jews, Tevye Served Raw is adapted and translated by Shane Baker and director Allen Lewis Rickman, who star in the show with Yelena Shmulenson. The evening brings together various writings by Sholem Aleichem, including stories that were not incorporated into Fiddler, and reveal what happened to Tevye and his family outside that narrative; the character was based on a real dairy man, also named Tevye, who Aleichem was friends with in Boyarke in Ukraine. The small, intimate stage at the Playroom Theater is mostly empty except for an occasional chair; the actors change costumes behind curtains on either side. Projections on a rear screen include English subtitles, photographs, and other information. In the opening tale, “What, Me Worthy?,” Tevye (Rickman) says to Sholem (Baker), “Honestly, I don’t know what you find so interesting about a little person like me.” But Tevye is a fascinating man, trying to hold on to tradition as modernity comes to Eastern Europe and anti-Semitism increases. In “Strange Jews on a Train,” a Russian Jew (Shmulenson) and a Galitsyaner (Baker) gossip about the rich Finkelstein family in Kolomey, with Allen standing between them, translating. “Tevye and Khave” and “Father Aleksii,” from Aleichem’s play Tevye the Dairyman, follow the relationship between Tevye and his third daughter, Khave (Shmulenson), after she falls in love with the non-Jewish Khvedke and takes refuge in Father Aleksii’s (Baker) church. “For every single thing you have a Bible verse, or a Medrash, or something!” Khave tells her father. “Do you have one that explains why — since God created such a big and beautiful world — why people can’t just share it?”
“The Yiddish Sisyphus” is a scene from Menakehm-Mendl, an epistolary novel by Aleichem in which the title character (Baker) exchanges letters with his wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl (Shmulenson), about his risky monetary ventures, Allen going back and forth as he translates the Yiddish into English. “You have worshipped at every shrine to stupidity,” Sheyne-Sheyndl declares. As an interlude, Shmulenson sings the lovely lullaby “Shlof, Mayn Kind (“Sleep, My Child”). The show concludes with “Get Thee Gone,” in which Tevye, the constable (Baker), a local landowner (Baker), and Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tsaytl (Shmulenson), face the expulsion of the Jews from the shtetl. “Why, God, why do you pick on Tevye? Why not play these games with a Brodsky or a Rothschild?” Tevye asks. But don’t leave yet: There’s a riotously funny encore that celebrates the marvelous insults hurled by Sholem’s stepmother, shouted in Yiddish by Shmulenson and ferociously translated by Allen in a stupendous tour de force. Packed into eighty-five minutes, it’s all a great deal of fun, with the Belarus-born, Ukraine-raised Shmulenson (Orange Is the New Black, The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum) — who appeared with Allen as husband and wife in the shtetl scene of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man — standing out among the three, portraying a wide range of female characters with zest and flair. Baker (Waiting for Godot, God of Vengeance), an Episcopalian well-versed in Yiddish theater, and Rickman (Relatively Speaking, Boardwalk Empire), who in a program note draws parallels between his immigrant father and Tevye, make a fine comic duo with vaudevillian instincts. Tevye Served Raw is a tasty little treat — but watch out for those trayf jokes.