The World of Sholom Aleichem
THE STORIES: The three plays are bound together by the narrative of Mendele the Book Seller, who connects the three different expressions of Eastern European Jewish life of the last century. A TALE OF CHELM is based on folk tales of a village in Eastern Europe, which village was cheated of its rightful quota of intelligence—the angel charged with distributing souls spilled her bag of foolish souls as she flew over Chelm and one of the results was a Melamed—a teacher—who couldn’t tell the difference between a nanny goat and a billy goat. The play tells of his constantly frustrated attempts to buy a milch goat for his wife. (5 men, 3 women.) BONTCHE SCHWEIG is based on a story by I. L. Peretz. As described by Atkinson in the New York Times, BONTCHE SCHWEIG “…is a wonderful one-act piece. Having died after a wretched and barren life on earth, Bontche Schweig now comes to heaven for his reward. Since life has taught him to expect nothing, he expects nothing in heaven. Even when the angels turn out to honor him he remains mute and bewildered.” When he is offered anything he wants as a reward for his gentle uncomplaining humility, he can ask only that every day he be given a hot roll with fresh butter; and even the angels are ashamed that his greatest wish is so pitiful. (7 men, 4 women.) THE HIGH SCHOOL, the longest and most serious of the three plays, is based on a work by Sholom Aleichim. According to Atkinson, the play “…narrates the story of two Jewish parents who try to get their son admitted to a nonreligious school. In Russia at the time there was a quota for Jewish boys who wanted to attend regular schools…Essentially, it is the story of one small though persistent attempt to break out of segregation. But it is not arguing a thesis. What endears it to the theatregoer is its bittersweet portrait of two parents—the cautious father, the indomitable mother drawn together by a mystic vision of education for their son. In both the writing and the staging, this is an economical sketch in which the broad, general truths are never mentioned, although they rise out of the silence like thunder.” (7 men, 3 women, and Mendele, the Book Seller.)
Produced in New York with tremendous success. “A time for rejoicing. The literary material is humane, wise and delightful. It evokes humor, sentiment and compassion out of simple material. A lot of skill in theater and native understanding of people has transmuted simple things into humor, pathos, wisdom and beauty…something wholly delightful.” —NY Times.