Was there a real Fiddler on the Roof? This question is being asked by viewers enjoying the well-known musical or the movie inspired by it, or admiring Chagall’s paintings. The historical figure behind the character actually existed, he was was a famous klezmer in shtetls of Russia in the second half of the 19th century and the source of inspiration for a now almost forgotten novel by Shalom Alechem. His name was Stempenyu. The novel tells about the life and adventures of a man whose two passions – for music and for women – marked his whole path in life. It was brought to stage on Broadway in the 1920s and is now being revived on the stage of the Cameri Theater, in an adaptation by Edna Maze (Mazya – I am not sure about the English transcription of her name).

 

source https://www.cameri.co.il/index.php?page_id=2407

 

I did not read the book, but from what I read around the adaptation is pretty free, the authors having preserved most of the characters but focused on the first part of the story and changed the perspective on some regards. The Jewish world and Alechem’s characters come to life naturally and we recognize the prototypes and they all look immediately familiar, they are our family, our grand-grand-parents – the musicians and their nomad life, the book-keeping wife and the scrutinizing mother-in-law, the absent husband focused on his Torah studies neglecting his beautiful wife who strives foe another life, the student attracted by the modern life and socialist ideas and the hopeless orphan girl never daring to put in words her love for him. All become real on stage in a minimal setting, without too much story building, we there is no need – we have already read and heard this story many times.

 

(video source cameritv)

 

The directing idea is to use no live music in a story which is all around and among music (there is a very well played musical score but it’s a recording). Instead of singing the actors at some points dance or use pantomime, and this combination works very well, creating living pictures of life and characters which express their feelings and reactions not only in text but also or mainly in movement. Above all Yehezkiel Lazarov is excellent in the main role, combining his exceptional skills in both acting and dance. Stempenyu is the closest thing we can get to Yidish theater on the Hebrew stage in Israel today, it is realized in a modern and attractive way and is a performance I do recommend.