Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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The Yiddish Folks Theatre
189 Second Avenue, New York, NY
This production opened on September 17, 1936.
 

"SHLUMIEL"
by Harry Kalmanowitz, music by Joseph Rumshinsky

 

This production was reviewed by L. Fogelman for the Yiddish Forward newspaper and appeared in the edition of September 25, 1936. Here is its English translation:


Every time when I go to see Menasha Skulnik on the stage, I know exactly what I will see and what I will hear.

I know that I will see a shlim-mazl on the stage, a foolish Jew, or a naive person who is always comical, or once tragi-comical.

And I know ahead of time what the shlim-mazl-like moron will do: I know that he will wander around as if in a strange world; in a world of strangers who will fool and insult him; in a world of women with whom he will feel overwhelmed and helpless; in a world where he will feel like a superfluous, useless person.

And I also know exactly that not looking at his vanity, "lostness" and helplessness, the same Jew with his comical appearance, and with his comical movements, it is silly to me; also strange couplets, songs, agile grammatical twist which will come from his mouth to amuse the audience.

I know this all in advance; and that is why I quite gladly went to see Skulnik every time on the stage, because I was still not disgusted [enough] to see and to hear him.

And every time when I go the see him, I ask myself the question: Why do I not become bored to see one and the same type, actually one and the same role, but each time a little differently veiled? And I find an answer. The answer is: Menasha Skulnik.

He is a talent; and a talent who is pleasant to see, even when he often repeats himself, even when he repeats the same motion over again. We love Skulnik's charm, his peculiar crumple, his peculiar comical aspects in situations, and we forgive him for his repetitions, though he finds himself here in a serious danger of being exposed to the constant adoration of the one and only, with this repetition going on without an end.

By the way, I want to warn about the danger to our gifted comedian.

This time I went to the Folks Theatre to see Skulnik with a special interest; because here he plays now in H. Kalmanowitz's play; true, also here he plays his constant role of a "shlumiel" (and thus indeed the play is called this), but Kalmanowitz is a playwright who creates merry, natural types and actions that possess the inner genuine comic aspect of situations and tragedy, And his "shlumiel", I thought, must also be a living, natural type that is interesting to see.

It turns out that Kalmanowitz had one here, evidently quite a little "work." Here "Shlumiel" "has become virtually the same fool, the same simple-minded person as the former "Getzl der gerotener," and as the other previous "Getzels" that Skulnik has played until now.

But through the twisted side effects of the play, there was still a breakthrough, as if through barbed wire, Kalmanowitz's genuine comedy of action and not of jokes, and we see here for ourselves some interesting scenes and images.

The content by itself here is actually very simple: a young, beautiful girl, Evelyn, who married Shlumiel to annoy her young boss, Cooper, for whom she works in an office and with whom she manages an unsuccessful love; after their marriage Shlumiel becomes the housewife and educator of their child, and his wife continues to work for the same boss, with whom she also maintains her old love. Finally she divorces Shlumiel, before ending her relationship with her lover. Shlumiel comes to his senses and chooses to marry someone who is a traveler, who has just moved from the old country.

And so it goes with Kalmanowitz's new tragi-comedy in two acts, with eight images, which are filled with jokes, songs and dance, such that the stage is not quiet for a minute.

Of all the scenes and images there are two that are interesting and amusing, especially strong for the viewer: a scene of the first night after the wedding, somewhere in a farm house on Long Island, wherein "Shlumiel" with his wife, and a family scene between husband and wife in their home, somewhere in New York.

The first scene looks very risky from the start, and the audience expects many spicy moments here; the two pray on stage and get ready to go to sleep, and  immediately this recalls a similar, beautiful scene from a burlesque -- but the modesty and shyness of the spectator are treated with pity here, and it goes smoothly, though the scene of the play is not elevated ...

That is why the tragi-comedy scenes of Shlumiel's family life is so successful: you see here how the unemployed man is transformed into  "yidene," a housewife and a mother, and how his wife becomes his breadwinner who has her whole mind in the house; you see how even the psychology changes. The spirit of such a man and woman, and here is good substance for dramatic action and above all for genuine comedy, which is built not so much on funny words and on jokes, as on the situation itself; the comical aspects of the actions is natural here, more realistic, and therefore also deeper.

As in all musical comedies, here and there also are these scenes that are immensely drawn to the har, such as, for example, the scene of a Russian cabaret; but this, evidently, is necessary for the singing and dancing, which has been here for the audience for a long time.
 



And as to the songs and dance there is quite a gallery of other fine actors, besides Skulnik, who plays his role of "Shlumiel," as always, excellently, with many unique comic features.

Besides Skulnik comes the new actress Fania Rubina, who was especially imported here from Europe for the Folks Theatre.

She possesses a beautiful voice, a good stage presence, and a better tone to her acting.

She, with the good singer Leon Gold, is a successful pair for an operetta.

A pleasant pair is also Marty Baratz and Paula Klida: Baratz excels with his dancing, and Paula Klida with her appealing appearance, and with her easy playing.

Goldie Eisman is more suited to acting than to singing, and I like her more in the dramatic scenes than in the songs.

And as always, the lively, gifted Tillie Rabinowitz attracts attention, who possesses the ability to create a role with nothing; when she had, instead of the small and side role of an Italian girl, a truly character role that was adapted to her. She would turn worlds upside down: but even so, the audience takes to her here.

And here this is where the current weakness of the show falls, by the way: Menasha Skulnik distributes too little to others, who could have raised a lot more; he relies a little too much on himself.

A successful pair of children take part in the play, of whom Victor Marcus excels.

The greatest virtue of the current production in the Folks Theatre is its livelier rhythm, its hasty impetus, with which passes through it. There is no attraction; there are no dull moments; "it sounds good," as one would say in the theatrical language.

It also greatly enhances Rumshinsky's diverse music, which also evokes the same lively rhythm and impetus as the whole performance. The orchestra is a little too loud, too loud; instead of accompanying the singers, it often plays them loudly.

In general, "Shlumiel" is a cheerful, amusing production that creates pleasant and easy entertainment.

 

 

 

 

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