«Jewish Observer»
September 2002
5763 Tishrei

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The play "Tevje Tevel" (author G.Gorin, producer S.Danchenko) staged after the story of a Jewish classic Sholom-Aleikhem "Tevje-milkman" has never been performed in America. It has finally arrived in New York together with the I.Franko Ukrainian theatre, which previously performed this play almost 300 times in different cities and countries each time drawing full houses. Organizers and sponsors of this premiere apprehended people (Brighton is mostly populated by the Russian-speaking) would not attend the performance as it is played in Ukrainian. But the doubts were ungrounded.

The premiere took place August 2, 2002 in an overcrowded "Millennium" located in the center of Brighton called a "small Odessa" or epicenter of "Russian Jews" in America. According to the administration of "Millennium", which had organized arrival of the Franko

Theatre's company in New York, almost 1,500 spectators attended the performance. Everybody cried and laughed going together with the actors through the events in the Jewish settlement Anatovka in early XX century where Jews and Ukrainians had lived together over many centuries.

Prior to the performance' beginning Sholom-Aleikhem's granddaughter Bel Kaufman came out onto the stage. Three years ago she had visited Kiev to attend an opening of the monument to her famous grandfather. She said, " Sholom-Aleikhem once wrote to my mother he was much eager his plays to be staged in America. He was sure he would not but we would see this. This has come true today. He would be very happy to be here today, to see all of you. He was much fond to Tevje. I will tell you one secret. Tevje-milkman did exist - a small, lean, black-bearded man. He had seven daughters..."

Then the performance began. When Tevje-Stupka stepped onto he stage in his docker's cap curls falling down on his shoulders, raised with difficulty shafts of his milk-and-cheese carriage and began drawing it along a stage-road the audience froze.

Tevje thoughtfully looked down (not to fall), then up at the sky over the road leading from Anatovka to Boiberik (to learn a coming weather) silently appealing to God, "Lord give my old horse health to draw the carriage, let customers in Boiberik swiftly but off my goods, let trouble bypass my five daughters at home, be them blessed!"

From the very first moments spectators together with Tevje were carried away to those distant and so near to many of them times when their grannies were alive who now look only from old photos kept in family albums.

When Golda (N.Lototskaya) appeared on the stage the audience got as if paralyzed. A Jewish mother, mamele, in a kerchief holding out clenched hands tired of cow milking and heavy housework walked towards Tevje looking into his weary face: was her husband lucky, is he well, did he sell all milk and cheese?

Motherhood now dominates Golda's life. This feeling also spreads over Tevje. It enchants the auditorium intently listening to her low, heartfelt voice. When Golda, unable to deliver her eldest daughter Tseitl due to the illness, asks God to give strength to her daughter to give birth to a child - this sounds fantastically true to life as if everything occurred in reality. Golda addresses Tseitl through God and with his help sees herself standing next to her daughter prompting how to better behave, when to exert oneself and when to grow weak. When a baby was, at last, delivered Golda, standing all the time in the center of the stage, falls onto the floor utterly exhausted. At this moment the auditorium died down. Nobody seemed breathing. But in a minute it burst into applause. Tears of joy appeared even on men's eyes.

One can't but lay emphasis on Bohdan Stupka's selfless playing, his unsurpassed transformation into Tevje's image. You often forget you are in the theatre, Tevje draws his carriage along the stage, his philosophical monologues, jokes, pertinent quotations from the Bible, talks to daughters, Golda, a village constable, student from Kiev - Perchik, daughter-in-law's father Menakhem are only a play of an Artist who has succeeded in subduing time and takes us 100 years back.

If in Sholom Aleikhem's times there, true, were such constables (O.Shavarsky), and such neighbor-Ukrainians as Stepan (Y.Shakh), and such students as Perchik (O.Stupka) and so on, then, at least, such people could ease the fate of many "Tevjes" in those difficult for Jews times. When the constable came to evict Tevje family from Anatovka, he said, "You are a crank, Tevje, and a big joker. I don't care about your grandmothers and grandfathers who had lived in this village much longer than I do, God rest in their souls! It is not me who evicts you, the province does. So, collect, Tevel, all your belongings and set out for Berdichev!".

Tevje has become a favorite character of many generations of Jews. It was so 90 years ago, it is so today. He is close to the people rich in sincerity, kindness and honor. His honor was boundless. He used to say, "Oh, God, Lord of heavens! You are so wise in ruling your world! You created Tevje and, for instance, a horse, and both of them have the same fate. Only a human can speak and vent his feelings whereas a horse - what can it do?" In 1914, two years before his death, Sholom-Aleikhem wrote to New York to a famous actor Adler, "Great master of the stage! I am forwarding you a stage adaptation of the "Tevje-milkman" I have created out of a number of works written over 20 years... Working over the main hero I was constantly thinking of you... You will not find here any vulgar jokes and any tickling under armpits. But you will find a Jew, father of five daughters - he is an ordinary but honest, pure, suffering person..."

Adler did not accept the play. It remained in oblivion up to 1930's. Only January 1, 1921 the "Petrograd Jewish theatrical studio", having moved to Moscow, staged the play "Evening of Sholom-Aleikhem" (producer A.Granovsky). A famous actor S.Mikhoels took part in it, and a no less famous painter M.Shagal prepared a make-up, consumes and scenery. That was GOSET's beginning.

Another brilliant Tevje after S.Mikhoels in Ukraine became M.Krushelnitsky. Their play entered the treasury of the world theatrical art. I think the next one in the pantheon of great artists featuring Tevje today is B. Stupka. His brilliant acting in New York confirmed this.

When the "Tevje" premiere in Brighton was over, it was already late. But people were in no hurry to leave. They kept approaching the stage with flowers thanking the actors for their heartfelt skilful play. Shortly afterwards Tevje's milk-and-cheese carriage got filled with white and red roses, dahlias, carnations, lilies...

The premiere ended. People were leaving the auditorium in Brighton-Beach: the old and young, men and women, Jews and Ukrainians, and very many children who, possibly, speak already neither Russian nor Ukrainian.

The next day another premiere took place with another full house. Tears and laughter, flowers and applause were again in abundance. Again many children showed up.

The premiere of "Tevje" in Brighton performed by the Franko Ukrainian national theater is a mighty stop forwards to get rid of annoying stereotypes hampering people to better understand one another.

Tevje dreamt of "my thoughts taking me to the Promised Land of Canaan, as they say, the land abundant in milk and honey". We all, Jews and Ukrainians, are looking for such land throughout our entire life but, alas, find it rather seldom. Shall we be lucky today? Or whenever at all?

"Day", Ukraine

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