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.
“Language! It’s a virus!” multidisciplinary artist Laurie Anderson declares in her 1986 song “Language Is a Virus.” Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin uses his trademark Gaga movement language to infectious triumph in his 2001 piece Naharin’s Virus, which has now been adapted for Batsheva – The Young Ensemble, trimmed down to a relatively lean sixty minutes and continuing at the Joyce through July 22. Don’t be scared off by the term “Youth Ensemble”; the large troupe of seventeen dancers and two apprentices are enthusiastic and energetic, well-trained performers — with many very likely to soon graduate to the senior company. As the crowd enters the theater, an inflatable white sky dancer swirls above its fan, a sly introduction to what is to follow: A female dancer traces parts of her body with chalk as she moves awkwardly along a blackboard at the back of the stage; Evyatar Omessy stands on a platform in a rigid suit, reciting text inspired by Peter Handke’s confrontational 1966 play, Offending the Audience, which places the viewer in uncomfortable contrast to the performer; dancers in unflattering, tight beige and black costumes form a row up front and break out into improvised, aggressive solos; performers share brief, intimate tales about their life and jump onto and hang from the blackboard, on which they have written words and phrases that evoke what is happening in the world today.
The show changes slightly from performance to performance, as dancers improvise in certain sections and can write and draw whatever they want on the blackboard, but one large word must be included, running the length of the board: “Plastelina,” the Hebrew word for “playdough” as well as a purposeful misspelling of Palestine, a reference to Naharin’s politics, which have been critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people. In addition, the work features Arab folk music by Shama Khader, Habib Allah Jamal, and Karni Postel, along with snippets of Samuel Barber, Carlos D’Alessio, P. Stokes, and P. Parsons. However, Naharin’s Virus is not meant to be controversial but instead a celebration of, among other things, ambiguity. “In the spirit of collaboration, Naharin’s Virus brings together the work of an Israeli-American choreographer, an Austrian writer, Arab and Israeli musicians, and dancers from around the world,” Naharin explains in a program note. “Even and especially in these divided times, the work reminds us that dance can act on universal ethics to create sublime moments that we could not have created alone.” In “Language Is a Virus,” Anderson explains, “Paradise / is exactly like / where you are right now / only much much / better”; with this new, updated version of Naharin’s Virus, Naharin has created another unique kind of paradise.
Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Pl.
Wednesday - Sunday through August 26, $70-$121
I only wish my mother were still alive to see the dazzling US premiere of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Shraga Friedman’s adaptation, Fidler Afn Dakh, debuted in Israel in 1965 and has finally made it to New York City, where it is being presented by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through August 26. Directed with verve and style by Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey, whose father was klezmer star Mickey Katz, the rousing three-hour production features musical staging and choreography by Staś Kmieć, inspired by Jerome Robbins’s original, with musical direction by conductor and NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek. The show is the Fiddler we know and love, the tale of a shtetl on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution, complete with stirring nightmare, breathtaking bottle dance, and a sewing machine, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein. But the Yiddish version, with Harnick and Harold Prince serving as consultants, offers neat little twists on the language; Friedman’s translation goes back to Sholem Aleichem’s original Tevye stories and reconfigures numerous lines to match the rhythm and meaning in Yiddish.
Thus, “Tradition” becomes “Traditsye,” “If I Were a Rich Man” turns into “Ven Ikh Bin a Rotshild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”), and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is sung as “Shadkhnte, Shadkhnte.” In “Sunrise, Sunset” (“Tog-Ayn, Tog-Oys”), “I don’t remember growing older / When did they?” becomes “Just give a look, how grown up / they’ve become,” while in “Do You Love Me?” (“Libst Mikh, Sertse?), “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, / cooked your meals, cleaned your house” turns into “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your wash, / I rub and polish pots of brass.” The lyrics are sung in Yiddish, with Russian and English surtitles. Tony winner Beowful Boritt’s spare set is backed with three long, hanging scrolls representing the parchment of the Torah; the word “Torah” is written on the middle section in Hebrew. The twelve-person orchestra plays behind the scrolls, partially visible.
The utterly superb Steven Skybell, an Obie winner for Antigone in New York, joins a long line of actors portraying Tevye the milkman, from Zero Mostel, Topol, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, and Herschel Bernardi to Alfred Molina, Harvey Fierstein, and Danny Burstein, but he’s the first one to do it in Yiddish in America. He shakes his body with vigor, slyly smiles as Tevye looks to G-d for answers, and playfully debates various incidents on one hand and the other. The narrative looks directly at modernity and change from two main perspectives; the personal and the communal. Tevye and his wife, Golde (Jill Abramovitz), are raising five daughters, Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff), Hodl (Stephanie Lynne Mason), Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy), Shprintze (Raquel Nobile), and Beylke (Samantha Hahn). Town gossip and matchmaker Yente (Jackie Hoffman) arrives one day to tell Golde that the wealthy, much older butcher, Leyzer-Volf (Bruce Sabath), wants to marry Tsaytl, but unbeknownst to either of them, Tsaytl is in love with the poor tailor, Motl Kamzoyl (Ben Liebert). Tsaytl and Motl’s determination to make their own match goes against tradition and the father’s power — and also leads to Hodl wanting to be with progressive teacher and political radical Pertshik (Daniel Kahn) and Khave falling for non-Jew Fyedka (Cameron Johnson), as women start making decisions for themselves. The excellent cast also includes Lauren Jeanne Thomas as Der Fiddler, Kirk Geritano as Avrom the bookseller, Jodi Snyder as Frume-Sore, Michael Yashinsky as Mordkhe the innkeeper, Der Rov as the rabbi, Jennifer Babiak as Grandma Tsaytl, and Evan Mayer and Nick Raynor as Fyedka’s friends, Sasha and Yussel.
The other key plot point centers around anti-Semitism and the future of the shtetl. Der Gradavoy (the constable, played by Bobby Underwood) warns Tevye, whom he claims to like and respect, that there is going to be an unofficial demonstration by the police to rattle the village in order to assert their control. “Thank you, your excellency,” Tevye says. “You are a good person. It’s a shame you aren’t a Jew.” Anatevke is in danger, but the residents don’t want to leave the only home most of them have ever known. I’ve seen numerous Fiddlers over the years, but this Yiddish version, which could have felt dated and old-fashioned, instead is very much of the moment in the wake of the immigrant and refugee crisis currently going on in America and around the world. It’s chilling watching the final scenes in light of what is shown on the news night after night. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has been on quite a roll since celebrating its centennial in 2015, with a wonderful adaptation of The Golden Bride, the Drama Desk-nominated Amerike — the Golden Land, and a sensational work-in-progress preview of The Sorceress. This Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof should be another big hit for the talented troupe. And my mother would have loved it.
Note: There will be a series of preshow discussions ($5, 6:30) called “Fiddler Talks: From Anatevka to Broadway and Back Again,” consisting of “The Making of Fiddler on the Roof” on July 18, “Transforming Fiddler on the Roof into Fidler Afn Dakh” on July 25, “Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye and Fiddler’s, or ‘Was Tevye a Traditional Jew?’” on August 8, and “Shalom / Sholom the Yiddish Mark Twain” on August 22. In addition, Tevye Served Raw, which includes two Tevye tales not in Fiddler on the Roof as well as other Aleichem works, opens July 17 at the Playroom Theatre.
Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
July 17-28, $35-$175, 7:30/8:00
Ivo van Hove has dazzled audiences with unique theatrical interpretations of such complex films as Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, Persona, and Scenes from a Marriage, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, and John Cassavetes’s Opening Night and Faces. The Belgian director continues his affection for difficult cinema with his adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 The Damned, an exploration of power and decadence in 1930s Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli were nominated for an Oscar for their screenplay for the film, which stars Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, Helmut Berger, Umberto Orsini, and Charlotte Rampling. Van Hove is directing the work not for his home company, Toneelgroep in Amsterdam, but for France’s legendary Comédie-Française, which was founded in 1680. “In my view, it is the celebration of evil,” van Hove, who has also directed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and A View from the Bridge on Broadway and is reviving West Side Story, says about the dark tale. The work features set and lighting design by van Hove’s longtime collaborator and partner, Jan Versweyveld, costumes by An D’Huys, video by Tal Yarden, and sound by Eric Sleichim. The North American premiere takes place at the Park Avenue Armory July 17-28; van Hove will be participating in an artist talk with Laurie Anderson on July 19 at 6:00. In addition, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting “Visconti: A Retrospective,” consisting of more than a dozen films by the Italian director, continuing through July 19 with such gems as Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, The Innocent, and, on closing night, The Damned.
BAMCINÉMATEK AND THE RACIAL IMAGINARY INSTITUTE — ON WHITENESS: WHITE MATERIAL / THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
WHITE MATERIAL (Claire Denis, 2009)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Tuesday, July 17, 7:00
Series continues through July 19
BAMcinématek has teamed up with the Racial Imaginary Institute, a collective that “convenes a cultural laboratory in which the racial imaginaries of our time and place are engaged, read, countered, contextualized, and demystified,” to present the series “BAMcinématek and the Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness.” Continuing through July 19, the festival, which “aims to foster a dialogue about what it means to be white in America,” has already shown such films as Taxi Driver, The Swimmer, The Jerk, Rocky, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It moves to another continent on July 17 with Claire Denis’s White Material. In an unnamed West African nation besieged by a bloody civil war between rebels and the military government, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) steadfastly refuses to leave her coffee plantation, determined to see the last crop through to fruition. Despite pleas from the French army, which is vacating the country; her ex-husband, André (Christophe Lambert), who is attempting to sell the plantation out from under her; and her workers, whose lives are in danger, Maria is unwilling to give up her home and way of life, apparently blind to what is going on all around her. She seems to be living in her own world, as if all the outside forces exploding around her do not affect her and her family. Without thinking twice, she even allows the Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) to stay there, the seriously wounded leader of the rebel militia, not considering what kind of dire jeopardy that could result in. But when her slacker son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), freaks out, she is forced to take a harder look at reality, but even then she continues to see only what she wants to see. A selection of both the New York and Venice Film Festivals, White Material is an often obvious yet compelling look at the last remnants of postcolonial European domination as a new Africa is being born in disorder and violence. Directed and cowritten (with French playwright Marie Ndiaye) by Denis (Chocolat, Beau Travail), who was born in Paris and raised in Africa, the film has a central flaw in its premise that viewers will either buy or reject: whether they accept Maria’s blindness to the evolving situation that has everyone else on the run. Watching Maria’s actions can be infuriating, and in the hands of another actress they might not have worked, but Huppert is mesmerizing in the decidedly unglamorous role.
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Tuesday, July 17, 4:30 & 9:30
Series continues through July 19
The Virgin Suicides, which traces the downfall of a suburban Michigan family in the 1970s, is chock-full of period songs, with well-known tunes by Heart, the Hollies, Carole King, Styx, Todd Rundgren, 10CC, the Bee Gees, and ELO all over the film. But it’s Air’s score that gives it added emotional depth, from tender piano lines that evoke Pink Floyd and late-era Beatles to rowdier, synth-and-drum-heavy moments to mournful dirges and hypnotic, spacey sojourns. In the film, nerdy math teacher Ronald Lisbon (James Woods) and his wife (Kathleen Turner) are raising five teenage girls, Therese (Leslie Hayman), Mary (A. J. Cook), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Lux (Kirsten Dunst), and Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall). As the tale begins, Cecilia is rushed to the hospital after attempting suicide. “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets,” her doctor says, to which she responds, looking directly into the camera, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.” On her next try, Cecilia succeeds in killing herself, leading Mrs. Lisbon to become stiflingly overprotective and domineering. But she starts losing control of her daughters when high school hunk Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) falls hard for Lux. Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring) shows a sure hand in her directorial debut, marvelously capturing small-town teen angst, even if things go a bit haywire in the latter stages. The film is narrated by Giovanni Ribisi and also stars Jonathan Tucker, Noah Shebib, Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, and Robert Schwartzman as a group of boys who are rather obsessed with the sisters in different ways. There are also cameos by Scott Glenn as a priest, Danny DeVito as a psychiatrist, and Michael Paré as the adult Trip, and look for a pre-Star Wars Hayden Christensen as Jake Hill Conley. In an interview with Dazed in conjunction with the fifteen-year anniversary of The Virgin Suicides, Air’s Nicolas Godin noted, “I really hated being a teenager. It was a pretty horrible time, and although I had good friends, I am so happy to be out of that time. . . . I definitely brought that to the film score, this idea of not being loved enough.” You can show your love for The Virgin Suicides at BAMcinématek on July 17 at 4:30 & 9:30 when it screens as part of “BAMcinématek and the Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness.” The series continues with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II on July 18 and Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out on July 19, followed by a discussion with culture writer Rembert Browne.
The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.
Sunday, July 15
Harlem Meer Performance Festival: Keith “the Captain” Gamble and the NU Gypsies, Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Central Park, 2:00
Monday, July 16
Piano in Bryant Park: Daryl Sherman, July 16-20, Bryant Park, 12:30
Tuesday, July 17
High Line Art: Kerry Tribe Artist Talk, panel discussion with Kerry Tribe, moderated by Melanie Kress and Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, about Tribe’s Exquisite Corpse film, the High Line at Fourteenth St., 7:00
Wednesday, July 18
Outdoor Cinema: Black Mother (Khalik Allah, 2018) and Symphony of a Sad Sea (Carlos Morales Mancilla, 2018), Socrates Sculpture Park, with live performance at 7:00, film at sunset
Thursday, July 19
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: Hamlet, starring Jane Bradley and directed by Karla Hendrick, Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk St., July 19-21 & 26-28, 6:30
Friday, July 20
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival: Anoushka Shankar, Land of Gold, My Brightest Diamond, Prospect Park Bandshell, 7:30
Saturday, July 21
Come Out & Play, Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza, DUMBO, family-friendly activities 1:00 - 5:00, adult games 7:00 - 10:00
Sunday, July 22
SummerStage: Ginuwine, the Ladies of Pink Diamonds, and DJ Stacks, Corporal Thompson Park, Staten Island, 5:00
Pakistani-Norwegian actress, writer, and director Iram Haq follows up her 2013 debut, the deeply personal I Am Yours, about a single mother’s disconnection from her parents, with another personal and heart-wrenching drama, What Will People Say. When she was fourteen, Haq was kidnapped by her parents in Norway and sent back to Pakistan to live with relatives, deprived of the freedoms she was accustomed to in Scandinavia. In What Will People Say, Maria Mozhdah, in her film debut, gives a powerful performance as Nisha, a teenager caught between her non-Pakistani friends in Norway and the old, fundamentalist ways of her parents and community. At his birthday party, her father, Mirza (Adil Hussain), seems like a good guy, but when he catches Nisha in her bedroom with Daniel (Isak Lie Harr) — they were merely talking, contemplating kissing — he assumes the worst. Believing the family has been disgraced, he takes Nisha, who was considering becoming a doctor, back to an impoverished Pakistani village to live with her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and uncle (Lalit Parimoo), where she will essentially be their servant. But when the police see her kissing her cousin Amir (Rohit Saraf) in the street, the family’s added humiliation leads Mirza to consider taking even more extreme action against his confused and desperate daughter.
What Will People Say is a brutal, gripping look at identity and assimilation in contemporary society, which is particularly relevant in regard to the current migrant and refugee crisis in America and around the world. In many ways, Nisha is the ideal daughter, a smart, sweet, attractive, and caring young woman with a promising future. In fact, her mother (Ekavali Khanna) and father are as proud of her as they are of her older brother, Asif (Ali Arfan), who is also studying to be a doctor. But the frightening difference in the treatment of boys and girls becomes quickly evident when it involves any kind of sexuality in a society that still arranges marriages for their children. Nisha doesn’t understand why her parents are being so abusive to her, especially because, as she repeats over and over, she has done nothing wrong. But she is also unable to tell the Norwegian authorities what is happening to her, fearing further harsh treatment at the hands of her family, unwilling to betray them. The film is reminiscent of Abdullah Oğuz’s 2007 Turkish drama Bliss (Mutuluk), in which a seventeen-year-old girl is raped and her village demands that she be executed in an honor killing. A coproduction of Norway, Germany, and Sweden and told in Norwegian and Urdu, What Will People Say is a difficult film to watch; you keep wanting Misha to speak out and fight back, but the fear of reprisal is so ingrained in her that she is virtually helpless, as old-fashioned, outdated values are hard to break away from even in the modern-day world.