Shlemiel the First | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Shlemiel the First



SHLEMIEL THE FIRST, Pegasus Players. There are messes and there are messes. Some mind-blowing messes are wonderful, resulting from an overflow of inspiration; Oobleck and the Curious Theatre Branch specialized in this kind of show in the early 90s. And then there are the shows like Shlemiel the First, shows that exhibit no inspiration or vision but are instead tightly packed warehouses of old ideas, dead gags, and worn-out shtick.

New Republic critic Robert Brustein began with a good idea: take Isaac Bashevis Singer's sweet, simple children's stories, based on classic folktales about the town of Chelm, and marry them to klezmer music. But unfortunately he's turned what had been charming comic tales about the stupidest town in eastern Europe into a tiresome evening of belabored vaudeville bits, third-rate imitations of Fiddler on the Roof, and cartoonish eruptions of children's theater. Klezmer mavens Hankus Netsky and Zalman Mlotek have come up with some great tunes, but even the most rousing of them are suffocated by Brustein's soporific book.

Peter Amster's shallow anything-for-a-laugh staging for Pegasus Players only highlights Brustein's worst tendencies; especially tiresome are the forays into sub-Stooges slapstick. Yet in the midst of all this noise Michael La Tour and Susan Miller manage sweet, rather touching performances as the guileless Shlemiel and his long-suffering wife.

--Jack Helbig

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