YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  STEMPENYU THE FIDDLER                                                 

STEMPENYU THE FIDDLER1, by Sholom Aleichem
(Yiddish: Stempenyu der fidler)


“Stempenyu the Fiddler" is a comedy in three acts and sixteen scenes by Sholom Aleichem, which opened on 6 March 1929 at the Yiddish Art Theatre, 14th Street and Union Square, NYC.

The cast of this Yiddish Art Theatre production included: 

Gershon Rubin, Max Rosenthal, I. Greenberg, Boris Weiner, Morris Silberkasten, Anatole Winogradoff, Ben Zvee Baratoff, Michael Gibson, Anna Teitelbaum, Bina Abramowitz, Michael Rosenberg, Morris Strassberg, Lazar Freed, M. B. Samuiloff, Sonya Gurskaya, Louis Weisberg, Maurice Schwartz, Liza Silbert, Anna Silverman, Celia Adler, Ella Clair, and Philip Sherman.

"The present play is a dramatization of Sholom Aleichem 's famous novelette of the same name. First published in 1888, 'Stempenyu' exhibits many of the qualities which were to make Sholom Aleichem one of the very greatest as well as the most popular of Yiddish writers. But was it because this was the author's first tale of love --the story is marked by a tender sentiment and gentle irony not common in his later and more mature works.


photo: Lazar Freed as "Stempenyu."

'Stempenyu' is a fine study of a musician with his happy-go-lucky disposition and philandering habits. It is also an admirable study in contrasts: what delicate irony that is which makes the romantic, easy-going, kindly Stempenyu the husband of the prosaic, tight-fisted, shrewish Fraydel, and the soulful Rochel the wife of the boorish Maysheh Mendel! But above all, 'Stempenyu' is a brilliant study of the Russian-Jewish woman of those days, who hardly knew the meaning of love as we in America understand it; who, indeed, would have been ashamed to feel, let alone own, such a sentiment for man, including her own husband; who looked upon marriage as a sacrament rather than a spree; whose highest aim in life was to be a good wife and mother, and whom no temptation could shake in her devotion to the mate chosen for her by her.

The following resume of the plot of 'Stempenyu ' is from the pen of Prof. Leo Wiener of Harvard University [note: I have included the name of the actor or actress who has played a particular role within the parentheses below]:

'Stempenyu (Lazar Freed) is a violinist, the leader of a band that plays at weddings. He has great talent for music, and has developed his powers entirely by self-instruction. He is a real artist, and like many others of his profession takes life easy, and is of amorous propensities. He has frequently made love to Jewish women, but the latter generally pay no attention to his assurances. But once he falls in love with a girl (Anna Teitelbaum) who takes his words in earnest, and in a prosaic way, without any idea of love on her part, compels him to marry her. She takes him in her hands, and would have him led a settled, prosaic life also. But he finds relief from his sordid existence every time he journeys with his band to play at some wedding. Once he notices upon such an occasion a young married woman who awakes in him the first inkling of a real, romantic love. Rochel (Ella Clair) -- that is her name -- is both beautiful in form and kind and lovable in character. After many overtures he almost succeeds in gaining her love. It is easier to succumb to Stempenyu's importunities, since she has a silly, worthless man (Liza Silbert) for a husband. She finally comes out victoriously from her inner struggle, for her religious conviction of the holiness of the marriage ties is stronger in her than her natural inclination. Stempenyu returns home, and tries to find consolation and relief from his scolding wife, by having more frequent recourse to his violin. He plays even more sweetly and more sadly than before.'" 

Stage version and direction by Maurice Schwartz, with incidental music by Joseph Achron. Settings and costumes by Boris Aronson. Executed by A. Chertov. Staged and produced by Mr. Schwartz. Executive Staff: Joseph M. Grossman, Leon Hoffman, Managers; May Strassberg, Treasurer. Stage Staff: Joseph Schwartzberg, Librarian; Ben-Zion Katz, Stage Manager; Technical Staff: Alex Chertov, Scenic Artist; Herman Grossman, Master Carpenter; David Gold, Master Electrician; George Nemser, Master Properties; I. Misbin, Superintendent.

1 -- Playbill for the Yiddish Art Theatre's production of "Stempenyu, the Fiddler", 1929. Courtesy of YIVO.





Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

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