The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln


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Jewish women in 17th-century Europe were doubly silenced--once for their gender and again for their religious beliefs. Which is what made Gluckel of Hameln so remarkable. Married off at 14 and widowed at 44, when she had 12 children, she took the helm of her husband's importing business and managed to prosper during one of the most turbulent periods of European history, the Thirty Years' War. That alone would have made her worthy of note. But she also kept a journal in Yiddish, addressed to her children, that recounted the details of her rich life and chronicled her fascinating, chaotic, dangerous world. This memoir--lost until 1896, when it was finally published--is the only premodern Yiddish text by a woman. Now Jenny Romaine, Adrienne Cooper, and Frank London of New York's avant-garde Great Small Works have transferred Gluckel's words to the stage in a production that mirrors the complexity of her time--the growth of trade, the exploration of new worlds, the ruinous wars between Catholics and Protestants. The show is packed with every storytelling tool at their disposal: authentic costumes, puppetry, music, dance, even a rarely used central European folk tradition, Bankelsang, that tells stories through songs and painted scenes. Performed in both Yiddish and English, The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln resembles London's work with the Klezmatics: it offers us a glimpse of the past in a form that appeals to 21st-century tastes. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, 773-722-5463. February 20 through 21: Tuesday-Wednesday, 8 PM. $20.

--Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/N. Berekut.

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