Stempenyu – Cameri Theatre
Written by: Ayelet Dekel
“Moments of enchantment when the world is transformed” – the Klezmer musician describes his art in Stempenyu , written by Edna Mazya after the novel by Shalom Aleichem, directed by Mazya and Yehezkel Lazarov; an apt description for this Cameri Theatre production that is a celebration of art and its allure, the way it leads us on and eludes our grasp, appearing and disappearing in the ordinary days.
The narrative takes its inspiration from Shalom Aleichem, but does not follow the novel, yet Mazya conveys the author’s bittersweet understanding of human emotions and Jewish life, an unswerving, honest gaze illuminated with humor, creating a portrait full of love and light. Shalom Aleichem was a master of creating character through dialogue, here, the adaptation to the stage makes full use of all the theatrical elements – costumes, set, lighting, movement and music, to bring the story to vibrant life.
Stempenyu is as much about music and its role in our lives as it is about the love and loss in the lives of its characters. Stempenyu (Yehezkel Lazarov) is a violinist, a womanizer who has been known to “sometimes propose when drunk” and leader of a Klezmer band that, ironically, is best known for playing at weddings. Stempenyu’s violin draws all into its spell, including the lovely Rochale (Rona-Lee Shimon) wed to Talmudic scholar Menashe-Mendl (Eran Mor) who lives in books. Oh yes, there’s going to be trouble in the shtetl.
Klezmer is the essence of this play and the music by Assaf Talmudi is wonderful, that familiar sound somewhere between a cry of pain and joy that makes the heart dance. The soundtrack for the play was recorded by a superb ensemble of musicians: Sanya Kroiter (violin), Eyal Talmudi (clarinet), Gershon Weisserfhurer (tuba and oud), Assaf Talmudi (accordion), and Dan Sela (double bass).
The talented Lazarov makes a brilliant move in expressing the music through movement, watching the Klezmer band – Matan Zrachia, Oded Zadok and Assaf Salhov, is one of the many delights of this production. The use of movement in the play evoked for me Shalom Aleichem’s use of speech to define character through use of different phrases, quotes and misquotes, erudite, pseudo-erudite and colloquial speech, and the inter-weaving of Yiddish with European languages; setting the Klezmer musicians apart from the rest of the community, a wild and lively tribe within the tribe, with their own strange customs.
The choreography plays a major role throughout the play, conveying mood and character eloquently; funny, exuberant, sensual, poignant, and always compelling. The cast is excellent – together they create a memorable community. Lazarov is at his scintillating charming best as the ultimate shtetl bad boy musical genius Stempenyu, and Rona-Lee Shimon shines as Rochale, a woman of intelligence who yearns for a life full of passion and meaning, struggling with her conscience as she endeavors to choose her destiny.
Rona-Lee’s talents as a dancer and stage presence are well-complemented by her expressive sensitivity in this role. I am intrigued by the representations of women in this play, from Rochale to Dvossi-Malka (Orli Silbershats) who always has advice for everyone, delivered in her tell-it-like-it-is dugri verging on vulgar honest style;
Freydel (Edna Blilious), the tough, honest, pragmatist, who manipulates her way to achieve her heart’s desire, her vulnerability arousing empathy as well as laughter; and sweet dreamer Etl-Chaya (Liat Har-Lev) who all too willingly sees the world through the eyes of the man she loves, provides one of the play’s most poignant moments, as the dreamer awakens to a heart-breaking reality. All follow their heart; in Shalom Aleichem’s world (and ours) this does not usually promise happiness.
The characters, both women and men, represent Jewish stereotypes, yet also reveal the person beyond the archetypal character. Chaim-Yossef (Alon Dahan) the amiable, not-quite downtrodden husband of Dvossi-Malka, radiates warmth and a compassionate intelligence. Not quite the social butterfly, Menashe-Mendl (Eran Mor) gives a tender intimation of how the bashful scholar might make his tentative way out of the cocoon.
Love may be lost along the way, but Klezmer triumphs in this play, as Stempenyu says, “the sadness of life is the joy of art.”
Stempenyu by Edna Mazya, based on the novel by Shalom Aleichem
Directed by Edna Mazya and Yehezkel Lazarov; Set and Costumes – Orna Smorgonsky; Music – Assaf Talmudi; Choreography – Yehezkel Lazarov; Lighting Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi); Cast: Stempenyu – Yehezkel Lazarov, Dvossi Malka – Orli Silbershats, Rochale – Rona-Lee Shimon; Etl Chaya – Liat Har-Lev, Chayim Yossef – Alon Dahan; Menashe Mendl – Eran Mor; Freidl – Edna Blilious; Binyumin – Yuval Segal; Shifra Lea – Hila Ofer; Meir Shneur – Matan Zrachia; Chaykel Mendl – Oded Zadok; Moishe Kalman – Assaf Salhov; Production manager- Sara Levkovitz; Assistant to directors – Iris Credi; Assistant to choreographer – Assaf Salhov; Stage manager – Sasson Sagron; Lighting operator – Silviu Meirson; Sound operator – Valery Reizes; Wardrobe – Racheli Choker; Props – Sara Cohen; Makeup- the entire department.
Tickets and showtimes: www.cameri.co.il