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Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears

Theodore Bikel's one-man show about the great Yiddish writer surprisingly lacks humor.

By New York City
Theodore Bikel in Sholom Aleichem
(© Michael Priest)
Theodore Bikel in Sholom Aleichem
(© Michael Priest)
Despite the title of Theodore Bikel's one-man show, Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, which kicks off Folksbiene's first season at the Barurch Performing Arts Center, the 85-year-old performer seldom makes it through the saltwater. Oddly, he's forgotten to bring the funny; a surprising mistake for a show about a humorist who instructed: "Let my name be recalled with laughter, or not at all."

The evening is a sort of annotated autobiography of Aleichem, with Bikel taking us through the travails of the great Yiddish writer, best known for his warmly wry Tevye stories. Bikel also includes some amusing business about fellow humorist Mark Twain and their chosen pen names. (Aleichem was actually born Sholom Rabinovich.)

But the main topic of the show is loss: loss of friends, loss of family, loss of tradition, and loss of culture. These issues are worth exploring, to be sure, but Bikel is giving us a rather solemn eulogy. (It doesn't help his cause that his Tevye sequence is the evening's most depressing.)

Still, Bikel isn't exactly chopped liver. The actor, who was the original Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (and, of course, a frequent Tevye), remains in strong voice. When he trots out the venerable "Oyfn Pripetchek," it's a joy to hear the audience turn it into an unprompted singalong. In fact, Folksbiene's audience seemed enthralled with Bikel's weary journey.

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