In attending “A Gilgl Fun A Nigun” (“The Metamorphosis of a Melody”), which opened its five-performance run at the New York International Fringe Festival on August 14, I was charged with answering a single massive question: Can Yiddish theater appeal to a mainstream audience? As a lifelong theater lover and gentile, I had never been to a Yiddish performance before. So the question was, would I get it?
“A Gilgl Fun A Nigun” tackles the problem of bringing the Yiddish theater tradition into the present by using new media to tell the I.L. Peretz story of a melody that travels through space and time. Creator, performer and director Rafael Goldwaser narrates the tale in Yiddish, while English supertitles and video images project onto a series of prayer shawls behind him, accompanied by the nominal song in its various musical forms.
As the play progresses, the melody transforms in the hands of a fiddle player, roaming from a village wedding all the way up to concert halls and orchestras, then back down to the forlorn wailings of a blind orphan girl, and finally to the ears of a scholar, played on the video projection by Goldwaser.