(Portland, Ore.) - Playwright Chana Cox, born to Yiddish-speaking immigrant parents, grew up steeped in Yiddish literature. Her new play "Feivel mit'n Fiddle," adapted from a short story by I. L. Peretz, is a love story between a widow and a simple man who, for the most part, speaks through his violin. The story will be told during a staged reading on Sunday, May 8, and Sunday, May 15, at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Portland.
"The play gives a vibrant impression, through music, characterization, and humor, of a stetl in early 20th century Russia," said Keith Scales. "Cox ably employs the resources of the stage, with realism and fantasia, to evoke the cruelty and tragedy of the pogroms to which Jewish village life was vulnerable, and the survival of religious tradition in the face of the fiercest repression."
Scales, noted Portland actor and director, and the artistic director of Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon, will produce and direct the staged readings.
The story begins after Sander Berger chokes to death on a carp bone. He leaves his widow, Sorah Leah, with three children to support and leaves his village with no carpenter and no violinist. While a Jewish town can survive without a carpenter, it cannot survive without a violinist. The town's Rebbe suggests that both needs could be met if the widow were to marry Feivel Nachtengal. Everyone in the town knows that Feivel plays the violin seemingly effortlessly; the problem is that Feivel is profoundly simple. At a young age, he was injured in a fall and he seems never to have recovered most of his mental faculties. Worse still, when Feivel plays the violin, he never plays with anyone else because he doesn't seem to be able to hear anyone else. So the Rebbe suggests that the town band must learn to play with Feivel, if Feivel cannot learn to play with the band.
The cast of 15 actors includes Kam Sisco as Feivel and Louanne Moldovan as Sorah Leah. Violinist Sophie Vitells will be the "voice" of Feivel. Vitells joins Jeffrey and Louis Olenik and noted Yiddish folk singer, Amy Shapiro, to weave together liturgical music, klezmer, and folk music in order to produce a rich tapestry reflecting the life of the small mythical village of Nishtahin. Other cast members include Sam A. Mowry, Susan Jonnson, Robert Projansky, Jason Maniccia, Dierdre Atkinson, Johnny Stallings, Atticus Mowry, Sarah Rea, Yoni Rappaport, Geula Katan, and Atniel Katan.
Cox's play "Pharaoh, King of Egypt" premiered in 2001 in Portland. Augustana Lutheran Church, Lewis & Clark College, and a number of other congregations in Portland sponsored that production.
The staged readings on May 8 and May 15 take place at 4 p.m. and are supported by the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at Portland State University. Congregation Ahavath Achim is located at 3225 S.W. Barbur Blvd. For more information, call 503-621-3380.