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Theater Review: 'Once Upon a Hassid'
By HELEN KAYE
01/27/2013
'Once Upon a Hassid' uplifts, moves, entertains, teaches. I just wish that this production didn’t take itself so seriously.
 
Once Upon a Hassid
Composed and arranged
by Ori Vidislavski
Edited and directed
by Itzik Weingarten
Haifa/Habima Theaters,
January 16

"Avrameleh Melamed” recounts the many misfortunes of a hapless, luckless Hassid. The song is sung and danced by various members of the hard-working cast. It comes about a third of the way through the show, but it’s the first and just about the only time that this production attains the essential lightheartedness that must be the essence of Dan Almagor’s iconic Once Upon a Hassid.

It is the essence of the Hassidic world; the lightheartedness, better described perhaps as an ineffable joy that derives through properly focused prayer, or so taught R. Israel ben Eliezer (c.1698 – 1760), better known as the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism.

That joy must run through the piece even though many of the various stories, songs and parables of Once Upon a Hassid are tuned to our contemporary life, to our lost innocence. “I stumble along” cries one song, that’s asking “Where are you, Lord?” The final number mourns that innocence, asking “Where have they gone, the old-time Hassidim who were modest, loved Torah and work, and didn’t seek honor and riches?” Frida Shoham’s set of leafless birches, plain square stools and tables quietly affirms that plaintive chant.

The stools are lit from within, perhaps to illuminate that inner life we all need.

Most of the stories take place in “a little village” somewhere, and Shani Tur’s eclectic costuming repeats nature’s colors, the blues, browns and greens of fields and woodland. It’s not pretty, but it works. So does Meir Alon’s sensitive lighting.

The excellent Yigal Sadeh heads a 10-member cast, each of whom has and owns a moment in the spotlight because this is an ensemble piece and – this is director Weingarten’s great strength – they work seamlessly together.

Once Upon a Hassid uplifts, moves, entertains, teaches. I just wish that this production didn’t take itself so seriously.

Sometimes “let it be” works better.
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