5/22 SAT 11:40PM
5/23 SUN 9:40PM
5/25 TUE 5:25PM
5/27 THU 8:25PM
5/29 SAT 5:00PM
5/30 SUN 5:00PM
As a member of the Tribe and an admirer of Yiddish zydeco, the phrase â??Klezmer musicalâ?� is all you've got to say to get me on board.And, on paper at least, Nephesh Theatre's Gimple the Fool has everything I could ask for in a Fringe show: a Tel Avivâ??based one-man retelling of Issac Bashevis Singer's beloved folk tale, with a translation by Saul Bellow and an original musical score. That's not one but two Nobel Prizeâ??winning Jews, what more could I ask for? Turns out, quite a bit.
Gimpel the orphan baker has got it bad, even by the awful standards of rural late-1800s Eastern Europe. This shtetl schlemiel is the constant victim of unimaginably cruel hoaxes and practical jokes.His fellow villagers trick him into marrying the town strumpet who births a six-pack of bastard children but berates him for questioning her virtue.Though everyone calls him â??fool,â?� Gimpel insists he believes that ultimately his tormenters live for the sake of the world to come. Still, mocking laughter follows him everywhere, and the rabbis' advice rings hollow, because if you can't trust your wife, how can you trust in God?
My dad read a bowdlerized version of Gimpel's tale to me at bedtime, but I don't recall it being so relentlessly grim. Gimple's agony is so pitifully unfunny it becomes absurd (in the Beckett sense), but Bellow's finely wrought text wrings gems of verbal beauty from the darkness. Add in a lovingly engineered musical underscore by Ron Wiseman (sadly, there's no live accordion) and some of the most beautiful lighting seen in a Fringe show (hat tip to Yellow venue tech Zana), and you've got the making of a great show.
But, disappointingly, director/adaptor Howard Rypp made a huge misstep in casting himself as the lead.His slow-talking, tzitzit-tugging characterization seems inspired by Marty Feldman or some lost fourth Stooge minus the funny. With a more subtle actor in the role, this show could be a moving meditation on morality.