Thursday, September 16, 2010

Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son

Illustration by scenic designer James Waters.  Rear projection.

"If you carry your own lantern, you can make your way through the dark."   
In 1986, The Children's Theatre Company created a new adaptation of a little-known work by the most famous of Yiddish authors of the early 20th century, Sholom Aleichem (Solomon Rabinowitz). Much like his better known creation, Tevye the dairyman (the father in Fiddler on the Roof), young Mottel narrates and comments on his life's story, also set in the now-vanished villages of Russia during the time of widespread persecution -- yet always maintaining a sense of humor and hope.

The Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son was brought to resident playwright/literary manager Thomas W. Olson's attention by his volunteer assistant, Judith Luck Sher, who was instrumental in researching and identifying experts in Yiddish culture and Russian Judaism, and also influenced the adaptation with incidents from her own family's immigration story. Mrs. Sher also contributed significantly in the actual scriptwriting of the play.   Olson chose only the first half of the novel (translated from the Yiddish by Tamara Kahana) for CTC's adaptation -- beginning in the shtetl of Kasrilevke and ending with Mottel's arrival at Ellis Island (the plucky youngster's further adventures in New York City would be left undramatized).

From the original cast L to R: Randy Latimer as Fat Peshe, Buck Busfield as Eli Rabinovich,
Michael Gallagher as Mottel, Suzanne Koepplinger as Mama.
The Adventures of Mottel was adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson and Judith Luck Sher and directed by artistic director Jon Cranney. Music was composed, orchestrated, conducted and performed (keyboards) by resident composer/artistic associate Alan Shorter (the score was recorded, with Bruce Allard on violin/trumpet and Brian Grivna on clarinet). Scenic design by James Waters (a stunningly beautiful Chagall-inspired proscenium and rear projections), costume design by Sandra Nei Schulte, lighting design by James F. Ingalls, and sound design by Sam Gauthier. Produced by special permission of the family of Sholom Aleichem. The play was presented a second time ten years later as part of CTC's 1995-96 season.

Video clip: "Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son." 1986. Finale. As the sun sets, Mottel and his family must spend the night on Ellis Island as it is the beginning of the sacred Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Unknown to the immigrants is the devastating news that their former home, the shtetl Kasrilevke, has been obliterated by pogrom.
 Audio clip: Adventures of Mottel.  1986.  Music composed by Alan Shorter.  "Shtetl."
 Audio clip: Adventures of Mottel.  1986.  Music composed by Alan Shorter.  "Goodbye to Kasrilevke."
 Audio clip: Adventures of Mottel.  1986.  Music composed by Alan Shorter.  "The Cantor's Son (Yom Kippur) - Finale.

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