A Gilgl Fun A Nigun (The Metamorphasis Of A Melody)
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 15, 2010
Based on a short story by I.L. Peretz, this solo performance piece tells the story of how a melody can be transformed, distorted, and reincarnated by the people who inherit it. Part storytelling, part multimedia, all in Yiddish, it's a great concept that still needs a little work to truly communicate the heart of the story to the audience.
The staging is cleverly designed to provide multiple projector screens, in the form of what look like prayer shawls hanging from the ceiling. These allow the use of video, photographs, and subtitles (for the non-Yiddish speakers among the audience to follow) to be projected in different areas of the stage, giving greater freedom of movement to the actor and changing the direction of the audience's gaze when needed. One issue with the projections was that they sometimes detracted from the work of the actor on stage (Rafael Goldwaser)—I wasn't sure where I should be looking, but often had to settle for the screen so I could understand the words. There seemed to be a lot more to the Yiddish he spoke than was translated on the screens, which I felt left me in a poorer position to understand the play. Goldwaser has a wonderful storyteller's voice—tinged with humorous dryness, expressive and melodious—but I wished I could have absorbed more of the richness of the language through the subtitles. It's difficult to strike a good balance with subtitles when performing in a language not native to most of the audience; for this show, which was so focused on the words he spoke, I would have liked more.
This is clearly an experimental piece of theatre; Goldwaser has some moments where he uses a prerecorded voiceover to continue the story of the melody and its journey, and perform some movement-based expression of the tale. My struggle was finding the connection between his movement and the point in the story we had come to, again perhaps because my attention was divided between watching Goldwaser, the video being projected, and reading the subtitles. However, the story itself is an intriguing one—to hear and see the transmutation of a single melody from a religious to a romantic to a mournful song, and back again, through the stories of those who learned it, is quite compelling. I wanted to understand more so I could become more invested in this melody's journey, as it is ultimately the music that is the main character of the show. I hope that Le Theatre en l'Air/DerLufTeater continue to develop this show to be more accessible to non-Yiddish speakers, as I think that it has a universal story to tell.